Mauricio Pochettino has been using a confidence trick at Stamford Bridge straight out of the Fast Show’s Competitive Dad handbook. In the late 1990s comedy show, Simon Day’s character would thrash his young children at a number of sports and pastimes, insisting all the while “they’ve got to learn”.
Now, in illustrating the fragility of Chelsea’s confidence after just one league win in the opening six games, Pochettino appears to have been engaged in something similar by taking on his misfiring £88m Ukrainian winger Mykhailo Mudryk at the Crossbar Challenge.
Reporters arriving early to Tuesday’s press conference ahead of the Carabao Cup clash with Brighton saw Mudryk blaze a 20-yard shot high over the goal on the practice ground.
Later, Pochettino offered an explanation. “One example: today, with Mudryk,” he said. “I like to play, ‘hitting the crossbar from outside the box’. He said to me today, ‘No, I’m not going to play anymore with you because you always win!’
“I said, ‘Yes, because I have the belief! The balance is between belief and quality I know very well because I am 51 years old and you are still young’.
“’You still need to know yourself. You start to believe in yourself, then you start to believe in your quality because, if not, there is not a good balance between belief and quality.
“It is difficult but that is important. That is one aspect that you work on the psychology of the player and can make the difference and provide the players the confidence afterwards to touch the ball and score rather than to go outside and go inside. It’s a small example. So today was the first time that we drew!”
On the one hand, the much-praised man-manager was happy to give his struggling charge an important boost. On the other hand, the uncompromising Argentinian former World Cup-winning centre-back refused to allow him to go so far as winning!
That said, it is getting the ball under the bar and into the net that has proved elusive – although Nicolas Jackson’s suspension for picking up five yellow cards this season does not kick in until the weekend.
Enigmatically, Pochettino revealed Jackson had also been punished further. “Not in the way you maybe think,” the Chelsea manager said. “It’s not money. I don’t like to talk about money with players. But punished in a different way, of course.”
Most of the last two days have been spent in talks to try to unlock a lack of confidence which Pochettino maintains is preventing his players from scoring the goals that would turn their performances into the points demanded at a club where £1billion has been spent on building the squad.
There are some things money cannot buy, however, according to Pochettino. “The problem with confidence is we cannot buy it in the supermarket,” he said.
What about if, in keeping with the Chelsea philosophy, they went out and bought up a whole chain of supermarkets? “We need to go Lidl by Lidl,” Pochettino appeared to confirm.