Mauricio Pochettino: Southampton Have Landed Themselves The Michu Of Management
As it was announced in England that Mauricio Pochettino was relieving Nigel Adkins of his Southampton responsibilities, most in England were left wondering who exactly he was. More known there for a tackle on Michael Owen in 2002, his appointment shocked and angered many Saints fans. Over in Spain, most were wondering exactly why Pochettino had gone to what they saw as a small team.
In Spain, Southampton are well known for their past connections with Spanish football. Both Club Athletic de Bilbao and Atlético de Madrid adopted the famous red and white stripes after they couldn’t find any Blackburn Rovers tops in 1911. The Premier League’s popularity in Spain has grown and so too has the legend that is Matt Le Tissier, but still all were surprised that the Argentine Coach went to the South Coast.
That’s nothing against Southampton; it’s just that Pochettino is highly regarded in Spain. In December 2011, Atlético de Madrid were considering him as a possible replacement for Gregorio Manzano. Then when rumours circulated that José Mourinho wanted out, Real Madrid fans said that they would be more than happy to have the former defender in the dugout. Even when Pep Guardiola said he was going, Mauricio’s name was thrown into the ring as a possible replacemen,t but then things went wrong; so wrong for the Coach.
Pochettino took over the reigns at Espanyol in 2009 with the club at the bottom of the table. When he left, almost four years later, he was La Liga’s longest serving Coach. A former defender and club legend, he was desperate after some poor results so he went for a walk. Actually it was more of a hike, a 12km pilgrimage to Montserrat where he asked the Virgin for some divine intervention, and it worked. A team that had won only four games and looked doomed with just 10 left, won eight of those and finished 10th. Then it was time for him to get down to business.
He revolutionised Espanyol from the ground up. There was no money to spend and the days of Copa del Rey and UEFA cup finals seemed like a lifetime ago, but Pochettino believed he could bring the good times back. He insisted that all youth teams play the same system. He also made them all play in an age level above than they should have, as he believed that it made the youngsters more competitive and hungry. He also insisted on a passing, two touch type of game that would see scouts from all over Europe come and look at the Espanyol youth teams.
In the first team, he showed his leadership credentials when the club suffered the tragic loss of Captain Dani Jarque. The defender, 26, died whilst he was away with the team just before the season was due to start. Pochettino lead his side with dignity and while it was tough, his side battled on and put in some entertaining displays. Even Pep admitted his admiration for the style that Los Pericos had adopted. In Spain there is a real pride in having a productive youth system, Cantera, and under the Argentine no fewer than 12 kids made their debut.
He also made tough decisions. When he joined there were still some players from his playing days in the squad. Friends that he had enjoyed time off, but when it came to business; he had no time for nostalgia and he let the likes of Raúl Tamudo, a club legend, go. He didn’t hide or pass responsibility, no this was a Coach who had a plan and a system and was determined to see it work. Yet, while on the pitch things may have been stable, off it the club were in ruins.
After being almost two decades without a home they moved into the fantastic Estadi Cornellà-El Prat. The ground has its fair share of admirers but it hasn’t been as successful as hoped. Debts continued to build up and in the spring of 2012, it was announced that the club had sold the rights to some of their most promising players. In the summer 10 players were let go. Pochettino suddenly looked like he might be regretting turning down an offer from Italy. A poor start to the season and enough was enough - in October a bitter boardroom battle saw resignations and Pochettino walked.
It won’t be until the summer that Pochettino really gets a chance to shake things up. A Coach that loves to work with youth at one of the best clubs for developing it. It’s a challenge, but he could be the managerial version of Michu; a real bargain. Most in Spain believe that he will be a huge success and while it won’t be easy, one can’t help but agree.