It has been heavily reported around the World of football in recent times that Jorge Sampaoli was desperate to leave his position as coach of the Chile national football team and try his hand at club football in Europe. This has caused a bit of friction between Sampaoli and his employers at the Chilean FA as they are refusing to sanction his resignation and are holding out for the release clause inserted into his contract to be paid from any side that wishes to take the Argentine on. Today in the English press it is being reported that Sampaoli is being courted by Chelsea with a number of other Premier League clubs monitoring the situation with interest. So who is Jorge Sampaoli and why has his name been mentioned among the top sides of the Premier League.
Jorge Sampaoli is an Argentine manager who’s playing career was cut short by injury at the age of just 19 while in the youth ranks of Newell’s Old Boys. He remained very passionate about the sport despite this huge disappointment and would take up football management aged 34 at Alumni de Casilda. Sampaoli would earn his managerial stripes and gain experience with several jobs at various levels of Argentine, Chilean and Ecuadorian football before gaining his first major role 16 years later at Emelec. The Ecuador giants gave Sampaoli his first experience of the Copa Libertadores and the high pressure atmosphere that accompanies the competition. After a year in Guayaquil with Emelec, Sampaoli would return to manage in Chile, this time with powerhouse team Universidad de Chile where he would be hugely successful.
In 2011, under Sampaoli, Universidad would win the Torneo Apertura, Torneo Clausura and the lucrative Copa Sudamericana tournament, they would then go on to reclaim the Apertura in 2012 before Sampaoli was given the opportunity to take over the role as Chilean national manager in December of that year. The Chileans were in need of a turn around and wanted to go back to the high pressing style that former coach Marcelo Bielsa had utilised until his departure in 2011. As a student of Bielsa’s footballing philosophies, Sampaoli was the perfect appointment and he quickly brought a turnaround in performances and results. His style burst onto the global footballing scene as his Chile side impressed during the 2014 World Cup, and fans began to look at his team’s methods as the way a side should play football.
His greatest managerial achievement was to come in 2015 as his Chilean side hosted the Copa América, he led the nation to victory in front of their home fans, defeating his native Argentina on penalties in the final. Sampaoli was chosen as the Head Coach in the Team of the Tournament awards, and would also be in the 3-man shortlist for the 2015 FIFA World Coach of the Year award, alongside Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique. Sampaoli was now considered one of the top coaches in the game he loved, and the high pressing style his teams utilised and made successful has made him a sought after figure for many clubs and nations.
The high pressing ethos, centred around hard team work and winning the ball back quickly, is something that Marcelo Bielsa has become famous for, and Sampaoli considers Bielsa as a mentor to him. He is not the only coach to feel this way either, Mauricio Pochettino, Tata Martino, Matías Almeyda and Marcelo Gallardo all consider themselves to be students of his style. Bielsa himself has been the centre of speculation in recent weeks as he was considered close to joining Swansea City as their new coach, a move that Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham openly welcomed. Pochettino has already shown that the methods and philosophies mentored by Bielsa can be of great success in English football.
It is because of his similar philosophies to Pochettino that Sampaoli has become so in demand in the Premier League. Fans and owners yearn to see the high pressing, energetic performances that his Chilean side produce at their own club, and Pochettino has shown that this method can be of great success in the English top flight. As the season comes to a close the management merry go round will click into top gear, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United are all expected to make changes, other clubs may follow suit and the name of Sampaoli will be one of those in the frame.
So where will Jorge Sampaoli end up if he does come to England? Well that could be dictated by other events, or to put it another way, we’ll have to see where Pep Guardiola goes first. Nothing will move until his decision is made with Chelsea, City and United all hopeful of luring the Spaniard to their cause. A betting man would say Guardiola is on his way to Manchester City, they have the resources and the project to tempt him in and are rightly regarded as favourites for his signature. Louis van Gaal appears to be on the move at seasons end and if reports are to be believed the Old Trafford club will be looking to bring in Spurs’ Pochettino as his replacement. This potential move throws up another thought, would Manchester United move for Sampaoli instead if their plans to take Pochettino fail? Or would Tottenham opt for the Chile boss to take over their project knowing he shares the same philosophy of their Argentine coach were he to leave for Manchester?
Then there is Chelsea, who currently have Guus Hiddink in temporary charge. Chelsea are the team who are linked with Sampaoli’s signature in the English press today, how would that move go down for both parties? Jorge Sampaoli is a coach who likes the game played a certain way, a high press full of energy, strong at the back, fast flowing and fluid in attack. To play this way he requires a certain kind of player, much like Pochettino did when joining Tottenham. Who in this current Chelsea squad fits that profile? Diego Costa played this way for Simeone at Atlético Madrid, but years later would he do the same for Sampaoli, Oscar is more of a gliding star rather than an all action worker and the defensive options are more reactive than proactive. Fabregas and Mikel have proven that they aren’t pressing midfielders and the whispers coming from Madrid are that star man Eden Hazard is this summers must have accessory for Florentino Pérez. Which leaves Willian and the younger players, so Sampaoli would require some new faces and a change in the structure of the squad. In recent years two other managers attempted this approach at Stamford Bridge, to rejuvenate the side and play a more expansive high energy game, and neither André Villas-Boas or Luiz Felipe Scolari were given time enough to do that. So why would Sampaoli fare any better than them? History tells us that Roman Abramovich isn’t a patient man, and immediate success is the only way for a manager to hold his job at Stamford Bridge, but if you are changing a style then immediate success is unlikely to achieve.
So the choices seem to be Manchester United if they can’t attract Pochettino, Tottenham if Pochettino leaves, Chelsea if they want to change their structure and if Sampaoli himself wants to take a risk or Manchester City if Pep Guardiola decides against going to the Etihad. It is all very complex and is full of variables. Sampaoli is a manager in demand for a reason, he plays the way fans want to see the game played, what fans will be welcoming him to their club, if any, is as yet unknown. One thing is for sure though, if the 2016/17 Premier League kicks off with Sampaoli, Pochettino, Wenger, Guardiola, Klopp and Marcelo Bielsa in charge of their various clubs, then the league will be a very entertaining watch indeed.