Italian Enzo Maresca appointed Chelsea head coach – a gamble that must pay off

Enzo Maresca

 ROME -- Chelsea have confirmed that Enzo Maresca has been appointed as their new head coach.

 The 44-year-old Italian, who previously managed Parma in Serie B, joins from Leicester City, where he led the club to the Championship title and promotion in his first season in charge. He previously worked as Pep Guardiola’s assistant manager at Manchester City, having coached the Development Squad at the Manchester club.

 Maresca, who played for Juventus and Fiorentina, has signed a five-year deal at Stamford Bridge.

 Speaking to the official Chelsea website, the former midfielder said, “To join Chelsea, one of the biggest clubs in the world, is a dream for any coach. It is why I am so excited by this opportunity.”

 Maresca’s appointment will be an attempt to marry the Premier League club’s longer-term vision with a project manager, looking to replicate Mikel Arteta’s success with Arsenal. But as the Italian becomes Chelsea’s fourth permanent manager in two years, he must allay concerns over his lack of managerial experience at Premier League level. 

 Since taking charge in May 2022, the Chelsea ownership led by American businessman Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital has spent more than a billion in transfer fees, with the club finishing 12th and 6th in consecutive Premier League seasons. Having parted ways with Mauricio Pochettino, Maresca’s appointment breathes new life into an expensive Chelsea project with underwhelming on-pitch progress.

 Maresca’s five-year deal may indicate Chelsea’s willingness to be patient with the Italian, but that means little in the context of the club’s hire-and-fire culture. While Chelsea’s recruitment policy and squad profile are geared towards a long-term vision, it is unlikely Maresca will be afforded time if results are not immediate. Pochettino left the club after just one year while Graham Potter, who also signed a five-year deal in 2022, was dismissed after seven months in charge. Instant results will be key for fans and the Chelsea hierarchy to put their faith in the former Parma boss.

 During his six-month managerial stint in Italy, Maresca struggled to coach an expensively assembled and international squad looking for direction after Kyle Krause took over the club. His in-tray at Chelsea is arguably not too dissimilar and the Italian will have to prove he learnt from that experience.

 Stylistically, Maresca must also demonstrate his possession-based approach can adapt to a higher level of opposition in the Premier League. The Italian was praised in the Championship for a high-pressing tactical style that encouraged playing out from the back, using inverted full-backs and marauding No 8s. But there have previously been questions over his pragmatism and in-game management.

 Chelsea’s young squad should be malleable to Maresca’s ideas, but he will have to adapt quickly to instil his methods in a pre-season curtailed by the Euros, Copa America, and the Olympics. It also remains unclear how different the Chelsea squad will be at the end of the summer. Chelsea’s owners have not been afraid to spend big in the transfer market, but more upheaval could disrupt a squad that showed glimmers of promise at the end of last season.

 Chelsea will hope Maresca can get the best out of Premier League Young Player of the Year Cole Palmer and Romeo Lavia, who he managed in the Manchester City academy. Italian U-21 international Cesare Casadei, who spent the first part of last season on loan at Leicester, could be another beneficiary of his compatriot’s arrival.

 The appointment is not just a gamble for Chelsea, but also a risk to Maresca’s managerial career. His glowing reputation from an excellent season with Leicester could be damaged if he fails to succeed at Chelsea, placing his credentials and ambitions on the line.

 Alternatively, there is an opportunity for the former Juventus midfielder to become one of the most important managers in Chelsea’s modern history. The club has lost both its identity and winning culture, and the Italian will hope to take the club from laughing-stock back to one of the world’s best.

 No one has yet succeeded at Chelsea under new ownership and the odds are stacked against him. For the third time in two years, Chelsea have pressed the reset button to reboot the project. Maresca’s appointment is a gamble that has to pay off, but the Italian will be hoping it is third time lucky rather than three strikes and out.