Malo Gusto: ‘Pochettino knows he has to wake up our mentality. We are Chelsea. We have to win’

Malo Gusto is feeling the responsibility more than most of restoring Chelsea to the status of regular trophy winners.

His father, Philippe, is a fan of the club and that allegiance inevitably rubbed off on young Malo. Gusto, 20, remembers Didier Drogba in his pomp. The Frenchman recalls with fondness seeing the club lift the Champions League for a second time in 2021.

So you can imagine the excitement in the Gusto clan when Chelsea agreed to pay France’s Lyon €30million (£25.7m/$32.4m at current exchange rates), plus potential add-ons, for the right-back in January last year.

“My family are very proud,” says Gusto, who spent the remainder of that season on loan back with Lyon before moving to England in the summer. “I am very proud as well to sign for Chelsea because, when I was young, it was one of the best clubs in the world. When I was younger I loved this club and my dad (did) as well. Maybe that’s why I am here today.

“But when you sign for this team, you have to improve, to work more every day. That’s what I try to do.”

Gusto is all too aware of the significant footsteps in which he and his young team-mates are following.

Under previous owner Roman Abramovich, Chelsea were the most successful club in England. Between 2003 and 2022, they won 19 major trophies. More than anyone else.

But that era of success is quickly becoming a distant memory.

Gusto has made a positive impact in his first season in English football (Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

There has been a huge change of personnel, on and off the pitch, since the Todd Boehly-Clearlake Capital consortium purchased the club in May 2022. Chelsea have spent lavishly on players of potential such as Gusto and now boast the youngest squad in the Premier League. That has inevitably been accompanied by teething trouble as a new group learns to work together.

Chelsea finished 12th last season, their lowest placing since 1993-94, with two managers, Thomas Tuchel and Graham Potter, getting sacked in the space of seven months. Under summer appointment Mauricio Pochettino, they are currently two places higher than that with three months of his debut campaign remaining.

Progress may not have been smooth, but there are reasons to be positive.

Their run to the Carabao Cup final, in which Chelsea face Liverpool at Wembley on Sunday, has helped fuel belief that the policy of purchasing younger players with room to improve, rather than those considered the finished article, can bear fruit. Gusto believes defeating Liverpool for the season’s first piece of silverware will inject some much-needed impetus.

When asked if he feels it is important that Chelsea win a trophy to demonstrate this group can achieve something eye-catching, he replies: “Yeah, it’s a new project. Maybe we have had to take more time than the other teams. This trophy can be good for this young team. To show everyone we are not just young. We are young but, on the pitch, it’s not about how old you are, you know? You have to keep pushing, game after game.

“(It helps) we live the same thing together, because we are all young. We try to help each other every day. We talk a lot. It’s good to stay with people like you — it will be nice for the future. (Winning a trophy) can be nice for our mentality, to help us become better until the end of the season. We have to keep working to show the fans we are Chelsea and we need to win everything.

“We have to take the opportunity. We don’t have a choice. We have to win every game. We are young, but it is not an excuse. We have a lot of quality and we want to win everything. This is a good opportunity for us to improve.

“But (the season) is not finished after this game. We have another one in the FA Cup (a home last-16 tie against Championship promotion candidates Leeds United on Wednesday). We have the Premier League as well — we have to keep moving forward, to keep a winning way.

“Maybe we did not start the season very well, but we have to finish well. That is what we will try to do.”

Pochettino has endured plenty of negative scrutiny as he has struggled to get Chelsea to perform consistently. The Argentinian’s bosses will assess his performance at the end of the season, but that has not stopped speculation over the past few months about his position. Gusto, though, has no doubts about the ability of the man in charge of this Chelsea team.

One of the facets Pochettino has focused on is building harmony at the training ground, inspiring a togetherness among a group of players and staff largely flung together over the past two years. In December, the first-team car park was closed off so a huge marquee could be erected to host the players, staff and their families, including their children. Along with food and games, there was a fireworks display.

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Gusto holds off Crystal Palace’s Tyrick Mitchell (Chris Lee – Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

When Chelsea conceded four goals in successive Premier League defeats to Liverpool (1-4) and Wolves (2-4) around the start of this month, Pochettino gathered the squad together for a meeting to stress how he “trusted in them more than ever”. His faith paid off with back-to-back 3-1 away wins against Aston Villa and Crystal Palace, then a creditable 1-1 draw at champions Manchester City on Saturday.

In all three of those fixtures, the team looked more united than at any other stage this season.

“He (Pochettino) helps us a lot,” Gusto says. “He has tried to show us the desire to win, to keep fighting against every team. He talks to us a lot about tactics and technique. He is a good person as well. He tries to help us a lot, on and off the pitch. He is a good coach for this young team.

“That’s (the organising of bonding events at the training ground) what he has tried to do to get everyone all together. The most important thing during this new project is this: to help each other and stay all together. If we do that, we can win more.”

Pressed on whether Pochettino, who will have a year left on his contract come the summer as well as an option for a further 12 months, should be given the time to make this project a success, Gusto replies: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. He is here for this. He knows he has to wake up our mentality. To wake up our desire to win everything.

“We are Chelsea and a big club like Chelsea has to win everything. To keep fighting.”

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Gusto has benefited from Pochettino’s input (Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

Gusto, who won his first senior cap for France in October, has not forgotten how Pochettino stood by him after being sent off against Villa on what was just his seventh appearance for Chelsea. Referee Jarred Gillett initially showed a yellow card for his tackle on Lucas Digne, but the sanction was upgraded after being flagged by VAR.

“He tried to help me,” Gusto says of that incident in September. “He told me to come back stronger, more smart and to keep the desire to help the team as much as I can. That is what I have done. It can happen early in a young career. I just have to learn from this moment, to know my mistake. It was a good moment for me to improve.”

Fortunately for Chelsea, Gusto has done just that.

Initially, he was bought to provide competition for Reece James, but primarily to be used as a backup. Those plans had to change when James suffered a hamstring injury in August. Chelsea’s new captain has gone on to make just nine appearances this season, the most recent over two months ago, after another hamstring problem.

Despite being frustrated by his own situation, James has played a part in ensuring Gusto settled quickly. He has now played 24 times and is growing in stature with each appearance. His weekend display against Manchester City’s fine winger, Jeremy Doku, saw him showered with praise from pundits and the Chelsea fanbase in equal measure. Not that he is getting carried away.

“It’s nice (to hear), but I don’t really care about this; I just want to become a better person and better player. The game against Doku, people talk about it, but it’s just one game. Maybe this weekend I could be s*** and the game after, I could be better. I just have to stay focused, to keep (the) good things.

“I came to Chelsea because I wanted to play against great players. The last game was complicated, but it was good for me to learn, to get confidence as well (for the final). It was a good thing for me. I have good cardio, good legs. This is my football. When I was younger, I was the same: running every day. It’s helped the team as well. When your team-mates see someone run a lot, you want to run a lot with him.

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James offers the newcomer his support as he limps off against Liverpool in August (Harriet Lander – Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

“Reece is a big player. One of the best players in this position. It’s not good for the team (that he is out injured) as Reece is the captain and it’s not good for everyone in the club. But me, I have to be ready and take every chance.

“We talk a lot. I try to help him, he tries to help me as well. It’s a good competition between him and me. We are not similar (as players), but when we are on the pitch we try to help the team, keeping a good mentality, to score and to assist. That’s what we have to do.”

Gusto made his senior debut for France as a second-half substitute in a 2-1 away win against the Netherlands in European Championship qualifying but then did not make November’s squad. However, his current form should mean he is considered for the Euros in Germany this summer.

“It is a target for me,” he admits. “I have got this idea in my head but, for the moment, I have to just keep focusing on Chelsea, on every game, starting this weekend. And after, we will see what happens. But it is a target for me, for sure, 100 per cent.”

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Gusto spins away from Quilindschy Hartman of the Netherlands in October (Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

A good display against Liverpool at Wembley will surely help his cause.

Few give Chelsea much of a chance against Jurgen Klopp’s side, who lead the Premier League by five points after their midweek win against Luton Town. There was a huge gulf in quality when the sides met at Anfield on January 31; Chelsea were already 2-0 down when Gusto came on at the start of the second half and they ended up being beaten comfortably.

But Gusto feels that 4-1 defeat could prove to be a blessing in disguise. “(Playing them so recently helps) because now we know how they play, how they move, how they use their players,” he adds. “It was good to play against them five games ago and we are ready.

“The defeat was a little bit hard for us because the score was big. After the game, we just thought about what more we can do — what we need to keep, what to leave behind. We stayed more together, whether on the training ground or in defensive or offensive actions (on the pitch). That’s what we have shown in the last three games and is why we played better. We have to keep it.

“Are Liverpool facing a different Chelsea this time? I think so, yeah.”



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(Top photo: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

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