With confirmation that Tim Sherwood is to be replaced as Head Coach at Tottenham finally coming, newspapers and bookmakers list Southampton’s young Argentine Mauricio Pochettino as favourite to take over. Enjoying many years as a player at Newell’s Old Boys in his homeland and Spanish club Espanyol, where football comes packaged as philosophical debate, Pochettino has gone on to enjoy a successful start to his management career – with close to four years at Espanyol followed by his current job, at a resurgent Southampton.
Tottenham face a testing few years. It is widely expected that confirmation of the building of a new stadium will arrive this summer and, as such, the majority of club revenue for the foreseeable future will need to be poured in to that project. The club will be required to work on a slim transfer budget in coming years, placing greater emphasis on the development of the current squad through progressive coaching, and on the integration of players from the club’s development squads in to the first team.
Mauricio Pochettino has demonstrated both the ability to improve players and a faith in youth in his previous managerial roles. At Espanyol he took over a team struggling at the foot of La Liga and secured three mid-table finishes, handing first team debuts to a dozen youth players in the process. At Southampton the integration of exciting young talent continued, with Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse and Callum Chambers becoming regular starters, and established players such as Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez making such improvements they all became England internationals during Pochettino’s tenure.
Tottenham’s need for this same type of improvement and youth integration is significant. After spending close to £100 million last summer on seven players who have struggled to adapt to the Premier League, Pochettino could be trusted to get the best from these individuals. Under his tutelage the club’s forgotten man, his Argentinian compatriot and one of world football’s greatest young talents, Erik Lamela, could become a key player. The club’s focus on youth development in recent years has several players ready for first team football – Andros Townsend, Harry Kane, Tom Carroll, Nabil Bentaleb, Milos Veljkovic and Alex Pritchard are all pushing for more football. It also shouldn’t be forgotten that Lamela, Christian Eriksen and Lewis Holtby – the club’s most creative players – are all under 23. With the right management all have the potential to play at the highest level and Pochettino would make the development and integration of these players his priority over the signing of new players.
Pochettino’s tactical approach is one that would sit well with Tottenham’s ethos. The club have a tradition of playing attractive, attacking football but have not always managed that in recent times – notably, something Chairman Daniel Levy mentioned in his ‘Chairman’s Message’ just a few days ago.
A high-pressing game learned from mentor Marcelo Bielsa, a high defensive line and an emphasis on quick transitions are the key elements of Pochettino’s preferred style. His teams aim to win the ball high up the field and attack at pace, catching the defending team off guard. Pep Guardiola once said of Pochettino’s Espanyol in an interview with the Guardian: “There are teams that wait for you and teams that look for you: Espanyol look for you. I feel very close to their style of football.”
His Southampton team are regarded as one of the easiest on the eye in the Premier League. A strong defensive base offers more technical players the opportunity to express themselves, with self belief and attacking flair encouraged. The defensive work of his attacking midfielders high up the pitch is something that would suit hard working players such as Gyfli Sigurdsson and Lewis Holtby, and other similarities between Southampton’s style and Tottenham’s personnel suggest a squad ready to take Pochettino’s ideas on board. Full back’s Rose and Walker are both quick, good going forward and have the stamina for the rigorous demands of the system. Sandro and Capoue would offer solidity in front of the back four, Jack Cork’s box to box midfield performances are something both Dembele and Paulinho excel at, and the wealth of attacking midfielders and wide players at the club would offer flexibility going forward. Soldado, Adebayor and Harry Kane are all strong, technical forwards akin to Rickie Lambert.
Another positive of Pochettino’s style is that it demands hard work from every player, in turn helping build team spirit and commitment – something which has been absent at Tottenham this past season. This appointment would help eradicate the sort of lacklustre performances and lack of concentration referenced by goalkeeper Hugo Lloris when he commented in an interview with the Telegraph that “this season we had sometimes the feeling that we gave up. We can’t allow this kind of behaviour. We have to show more character.”
It’s clear that whoever is appointed to succeed Tim Sherwood must be afforded the support not only of the players, but also of the fans and the board. Mauricio Pochettino’s appointment would mark a return to the so-called ‘project’ management of the Villas-Boas era, something that can only work if patience is employed by all invested parties – a lesson Tottenham can learn from Liverpool’s success this season after a slow start under Brendan Rodgers. Indeed, the successes of Rodgers and another similarly minded young manager, Roberto Martinez, after moves from lower profile clubs to a pair of the countries biggest, demonstrates how astute an appointment Maurcio Pochettino could be for Tottenham.
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