Mauricio Pochettino the Right Man at the Right Time for Tottenham Hotspur

Willie Gannon@ Writer IMay 28, 2014

FILE - In this Sunday, May 11, 2014, file photo, Southampton's manager Mauricio Pochettino looks on from the dugout before the start of their English Premier League soccer match against Manchester United at St Mary's stadium, Southampton, England.  Tottenham has hired Mauricio Pochettino as the club's new manager on a five-year contract, with the former Argentina defender making the move from fellow Premier League side Southampton. (AP Photo/Sang Tan, File)
Sang Tan/Associated Press

Men like Mauricio Pochettino are a rare breed; they do not come along with great frequency. Managers like Pochettino are rarer still, and Tottenham Hotspur may just have captured the ideal man to propel them to the next level.

Spurs have appointed the 42-year-old Argentinian on a five-year deal according to Tottenham's official websitePochettino will be joined by his backroom team of Jesus Perez (assistant head coach), Miguel D'Agostino (first-team coach) and Toni Jimenez (goalkeeping coach) with whom he previously worked at both Southampton and Espanyol.

As a manager, Pochettino ticks all the boxes for Daniel Levy, Tottenham's chairman.

He is a progressive young manager who likes his team to play in the same high-tempo manner that Spurs fans will be accustomed to. He has progressed the careers of numerous players during his short time at Southampton and Espanyol on limited budgets.

Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Rickie Lambert will all represent England at the World Cup in Brazil this summer, and Jay Rodriguez narrowly missed out on selection by Roy Hodgson because of an injury sustained in April against Manchester City.

When Pochettino succeeded Nigel Adkins as Southampton's manager in January 2013, the Saints were favorites for relegation. Few would have thought they would survive, let alone finish eighth the following season whilst sending three players to the World Cup.

His work was equally as impressive at perennial underachievers Espanyol in La Liga. In a similar situation to Southampton in 2013, Pochettino took over the struggling Barcelona-based club while it was mired in a relegation battle.

Six short months later, he guided his charges to 10th. The following season, 2009-10, saw the Pericos finish an equally impressive 11th, and then one year later they finished eighth.

It wasn't until the 2011-12 season that trouble began to emerge. That season, seven first-team players were sold, including Jose Callejon to Real Madrid. Bereft of their best players, Espanyol sank back into the relegation zone. As a result, Pochettino resigned. Moises Hurtado, who played with Pochettino and then under him, told Sid Lowe in The Guardian what it was like under his regime toward the end.

As a player he had weight in the dressing room, but as a manager there were later some attitudes that I didn't share. He wanted to control everything.

The first season was fine: he'd been a player and he understood, he connected with us well. But then things changed. He seemed to see conspiracy where there was none and some good people had to leave out the back door, and not just players.

He wanted everyone to dance to his tune, people entirely committed to him. The atmosphere ended up not being so good.

In purely sporting terms, though, there was no problem: he got great results and we played well.

Given the current circumstances and rumors linking a multitude of players with summer transfers away from Southampton, it is likely that this scenario played some part in his thought process when joining Spurs.

That should, however, not detract from the transfer. Far from it, it shows a man who has learned harsh lessons quickly and who is astute enough to know how to progress his career on a better path.

Pochettino was discovered by Argentinian legend Marcelo Bielsa in the town of Murphy in the Santa Fe province in Argentina.

Sid Lowe, writing for The Guardian, tells a wonderful story from 1987 about Bielsa and former Atletico Madrid player Jose Griffa knocking at the Pochettino home in the dead of night. The pair, scouts for Newell's Old Boys, wanted to see Pochettino's physique before committing to signing the player.

What really made Pochettino stand apart from other players was his maturity. Even at 14, Pochettino thought about the game and possessed a great drive and ambition to succeed.

Newell's signed the youth, and just two years later, aged 16, he made his debut for the world famous club. The following year Bielsa, already an influence from the youth setup, took over as first-team manager.

In 1994, Pochettino, a centre-half by trade, made the move to La Liga where he joined Espanyol. His tough footballing upbringing, where he was wrung from his parents' grasp at 14, ensured that he was mentally tough enough to move to the other side of the world and succeed.

Four years later he was reunited with Bielsa again. His stay in Spain was short, however, as he decided to return to Argentina to manage the international team that Pochettino was a key part of.

To see the kind of character Pochettino possesses all one has to do is realize what an influential player he was. He was captain of both Espanyol and Paris Saint-Germain FC and played more games for the Catalan team than any other foreign player before or since. He left home at 14 to follow his ambition and had the drive and single-mindedness to shake off fear and doubt in the pursuit of his dream.

He is a leader of men and commands great respect amongst his peers, and he is a philosopher on the modern game.

Bielsa has been a huge influence on his career. They have crossed paths numerous times, and there has been more than one occasion where Pochettino's tactics resembled the legendary Argentinian's.

Unlike Bielsa, however, he is not as fixated with micromanagement on the pitch, and he allows his players the freedom to express themselves in attacking positions. Defensive positions are another thing altogether, though. Here, he insists on positional perfection and superb fitness which, in turn, provide the foundation to be proactive.

While at Southampton, he introduced double-training sessions. However, unlike Paolo Di Canio, who insisted on double-fitness sessions when managing Sunderland, Pochettino instead introduced double-tactical sessions where the focus was on positional play.

Like Bielsa, he does not believe in reactive football. Jose Mourinho has made an art of reactive football where counter-attacking is key. Pochettino, however, comes from the same class of manager as Pep Guardiola and believes in controlling possession and the space on the pitch.

At the highest level, football is all about utilizing space, specifically the small spaces available near the opponents and the larger spaces behind the defense. This is achieved by highly mobile players in every position who control this space jealously. Thus, the defensive transitional phase and attacking transitional phase merge. 

This simple step makes it incredibly hard for opponents to adjust or react as players defend from all over the pitch and are instantly in position to take advantage once possession in regained. Thus, attack turns into defense and back into attack with incredible speed.

Barcelona, of course, perfected this tactic under Guardiola, but it is nothing new to the world of football. Jack Charlton spoke of "putting the opposition under pressure" back in the late '80s and early '90s when managing Ireland and played the same way at Leeds United back in the '60s and '70s under Don Revie.

This tactic became undone for Pochettino at Southampton toward the center of the season when they picked up numerous injuries to key players. With a small squad to choose from, the Saints' good results dwindled.

One key aspect of Pochettino's reign at Southampton was how he merged his operational plan with the team with the club's long-term strategic plan. Here, he promoted from within and helped develop young players. At Espanyol, he is credited with completely rebuilding the club youth structure.

In fact, he was so good that the Saints' five-year plan for Premier League stabilization was accelerated to just 18 months, according to Nicola Cortese when speaking to BBC Sport recently.

The key skills needed for any manager are being able to plan, lead, organize and control. Pochettino has demonstrated these to great effect. He has proven these abilities time and time again as a player but most importantly as a manager with Espanyol and Southampton.

Spurs are about to embark on one of the most important projects in their history when they redevelop their stadium. They need a steady hand at the management wheel while this is going on.

Tim Sherwood demonstrated he was not the right man to lead the club forward when given the chance last December. The former Spurs player proved too hotheaded and let the pressure and occasion of managing a team with high expectations get to him. At times, his behavior was childish, at others it was refreshingly honest.

In truth, he was too much of a loose cannon, and his scatter-gun approach to dealing with issues and the media would have had the club running for cover most weeks. 

Levy has moved for a steady hand but from a man driven by ambition, desire, purpose and great moral fiber.

There is no guarantee that Pochettino will be a success at Spurs, of course. During his time at Tottenham, Daniel Levy has dispensed with eight other managers, and the average time a man stays in the hot seat at White Hart Lane is just one year and nine months. 

No Spurs manager, however, has come to the club in Levy's time with such a sound coaching, management and playing background. Pochettino knows what it takes to be a top professional, and he knows what it takes to make a top professional.

He is ideally placed to help the likes of Erik Lamela after the young Argentinian failed to settle in London last season. Likewise, Pochettino has a record of promoting from within. Tottenham's U-21s made great strides in 2012-13 when they enjoyed phenomenal success in the U-21 Premier League.

It is not without irony that on the same day Pochettino is announced as Tottenham's next manager, his former master, Marcelo Bielsa, was also announced as the new manager of Marseille, as per Fox Sports.

The student now has the chance to emulate and take over from the master. It will be no easy task. The foundations are all in place. Spurs have one of the best training grounds in the world, a squad packed with top-class talent and the money and ambition to improve.

Spurs might just have signed the right man at the right time.


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