“I am very happy to be here, in this amazing weather” the new Southampton manager said as he cracked a rye smile. “I’ll continue in Espagnol.” And that was it. The new Southampton manager could not continue his first press conference as the Saints’ new boss in English. It wasn’t the most comfortable of openings for a new manager as Southampton fans demanded answers when they heard Nigel Adkins’ successor was an unproven manager who couldn’t speak the language. Furthermore, the formative stages of Pochettino’s reign were littered with awkward exchanges with the media and the underlying sense that he hadn’t won the Saints’ followers over. Perhaps the sacking of Nigel Adkins at the start of the year was harsh, having just clinched a commendable point at Stamford Bridge and having consolidated 12th place in the table. Not bad for a newly promoted side. However, being the ruthless businessman and leader that he is, Nicola Cortese believed it was time for a change. There weren’t many others who agreed with him. Nevertheless, his decision turned out to be a masterstroke.
Ten months on, the likeable Liverpudlian’s time in charge is a distant memory as Pochettino’s Southampton side thrive in the upper echelons on the Premier League. The appointment was bold and imaginative, and as inspired as Swansea’s recruitment of Michael Laudrup. Southampton fans began preparations for life in the Championship in a daze of confusion and frustration but as the last ten months have emphatically depicted a confident, tactically astute manager, those murmurings of disquiet have been proven wildly misguided.
The Saints have quite simply been loving life of late. Pochettino scooped the Manager of the Month gong for October while Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez were included in the latest England squad for the upcoming friendlies against Chile and Germany whilst 18-year old prodigies Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse got the nod for Gareth Southgate’s U-21 side. The squad announcements came last Thursday and it would seem that Southampton’s home-grown triumvirate were in celebratory mood as they brushed Hull aside 4-1 at St. Mary’s on Saturday. Nobody caught the eye more than Adam Lallana, whose revival after a lengthy injury lay-off will be warmly embraced by England fans who see the current squad as mediocre and stagnant. Lallana is a creative and energetic linchpin in Southampton’s attack and his verve and vivacity may provide England with fresh impetus in the same manner as Andros Townsend may they choose to play him.
Pochettino has been deeply influenced by the tactical school of Marcelo Bielsa whose philosophy reads on http://eplindex.com/37849/marcelo-bielsas-tactical-influence-mauricio-pochettino-tactics.html as: “Bielsa’s preferred approach is one that looks to overload the defensive third with his ‘spare-man philosophy’ when in possession and in the final third Bielsa is known to employ an un enganche y tres punta (one playmaker and three forwards) system. The former Chile and Athletic Bilbao tactician also looked to cut the time taken in transition (the time in between the two formations – (1) defensive and (2) attacking), an idea that Pep Guardiola took from Bielsa (who Guardiola called “the best manager in the world” – 2012) and implemented at Barcelona.”
Arguably Pochettino’s finest achievement in his program of transformation at Southampton has been the tightening of a formerly leaky defence. When Adkins took the Saints into the Premier League, they captured the imagination of many with their high-tempo attacking brand of football. Soberingly, they were sorely brought back down to earth as they shipped 28 goals in 10 matches signalling the worst defence in the Premier League by a clear nine goals. Ouch. Pochettino has not suffered such a fate due to his tactical nous and deft understanding of the game. His ability to adapt tactically to the Premier League is extremely impressive and it is built on a solid philosophical foundation. Playing with a high-pressing strategy has become standard operating procedure at St. Mary’s following the Argentine’s appointment. The front two are required to press the opposing defenders to cut off the supply from the source and prevent many clubs from what they love to do: build attacks from the back. Indeed, this tactic was utilised to optimum efficiency by Biesla as Athletic Bilbao dumped Manchester United out of the Europa League following two hugely impressive performances (Especially at Old Trafford where Bilbao players a limping Manchester United into the ground.)
Southampton’s meteoric rise has been facilitated by smart spending in the summer, buying accomplished players right through the spine of the team to compliment their tactical tendencies. Victor Wanyama was brought in to act as the prime defensive shield who sits in front of the highly impressive defensive partnership of Dejan Lovren (also a summer purchase) and Jose Fonte. Of course, such a tactical methodology requires strict positional discipline and mental concentration. To put it obviously, playing well doesn’t come easily. The proof is in the pudding. Pablo Osvaldo, the £15m striker bought from Roma in the summer, conveyed the emphasis on fitness in a Pochettino regime: “At times you want to kill him because he makes you suffer like a dog. But you get the results.”
Pochettino has been clever enough to realise that pressing high up the field obviously leaves gaping holes throughout the team. He has maintained that this pressing policy is only in operation when the ball is in the opposition’s half. Once the ball passes the halfway line, Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin drop deep and create a defensive block that is hard to break down. What Pochettino has created is an efficient system that is built on a strict tactical methodology and when implemented effectively, makes Southampton a nightmare to play against. It shows that Pochettino possesses the managerial capacity to become one of the greats. He has adapted accordingly to the reality that aggressive pressing is infeasible for an entire season and has chosen the time wisely as to when to implement this strategy. It has served him well, he remains unsurprised by their brilliant start to the campaign: “It just goes to show you the players fully believe in how we are trying to play. We need to be intelligent, keep our feet on the ground. We are on a good run, but we haven’t achieved anything yet. It is a long season,” speaking mindfully about their position in the league.
He was being modest. Southampton have achieved plenty since his time in charge from avoiding relegation to investing wisely in the summer and gelling those new signings into a team together that has established itself as a strong unit of attack and defence whilst rubbing shoulders with the monstrously wealthy Chelsea and Manchester City. Southampton wouldn’t adopt a similar transfer policy even if they possessed the powerhouse finances of the aforementioned two. Pochettino bought three players in the summer, but all three were wise recruits that have significantly strengthened the team. Smart investment while fostering a thriving academy is a hallmark of the club. Bringing prodigies like Ward-Prowse, Shaw and Lallana through bares just as much importance to anyone at the club than recruiting marquee players for big bucks. Pochettino has become embroidered with the Southampton way.
It would appear that Pochettino has refused to let the language barrier get in the way of his focus and drive as a young manager. At 41, time is on his side to continue to build and advance this already impressive Southampton team and in the way that has been taught. Speaking English may come in the future but for now, football is his first language and he speaks it eloquently.