Premier League Clubs Managed: Southampton (2013-2014), Tottenham Hotspur (2014-PRESENT)
Mauricio Pochettino is one of the brightest talents in management. His Tottenham Hotspur sides have been a joy to watch over the past two and a half years. He has transformed Tottenham from a team that used to be frustratingly inconsistent into regular title challengers.
So far, Pochettino hasn’t quite managed to win any silverware as a manager but his time is coming and so is that of a rising Tottenham side that even in 2017-2018, seem to have been the most consistent side beyond the dominance at Manchester City.
To think that this was a man who when he was controversially appointed as Southampton manager in January 2013 was best-known for ‘fouling’ Michael Owen in Sapporo during the 2002 World Cup finals.
Tough and uncompromising
Football was engrossed into Pochettino’s life at a very early age. He watched on closely at the 1978 World Cup, as host nation Argentina won the trophy for the first time. He was just six years old when the likes of Ardiles, Kempes and Villa proved too good for the rest of the world.
Just over a decade later, he was playing professional football in his home country, winning the national championship in 1991 with Newell’s Old Boys. Even at this age, he was learning methods and tactics from his manager at the time, Marcelo Bielsa, who would go on to manage both Argentina and Chile at World Cup final competitions.
Aged 22, Pochettino made the move into mainland Europe, joining Espanyol in 1994. The Catalans had just been promoted back to La Liga and moulded Pochettino into a tough but uncompromising defender. His first spell with the club lasted nearly seven years, winning the Copa del Rey in the year 2000.
He joined French heavyweights Paris Saint-Germain in January 2001, spending two years with the Parisians. After one further campaign in France with Bordeaux, he returned to Espanyol to close down his playing career in 2006, winning a second Copa del Rey in the process.
Did he trip Owen?
Mauricio won 20 caps for Argentina between 1999 and 2002. He started every game at the 2002 World Cup, where Argentina came into the tournament in Asia as co-favourites with many of the pundits and bookmakers.
They faced old foes in England in their second match. A minute before half-time, Italian referee Pierluigi Collina penalised Pochettino for fouling Michael Owen in the penalty area. David Beckham duly converted the spot-kick to set England up for a 1-0 victory and their first in the World Cup against Argentina since 1966.
To this day, Pochettino is adamant that contact wasn’t made between him and Owen and when you look at replays, the forward certainly threw himself to the ground to win the penalty. If you were an Englishman though, you probably didn’t care about this element.
Argentina crashed out in the group stages after drawing their final match with Sweden and Pochettino would never play for the international side again.
His coaching career began with the club where he wound down his playing time, Espanyol. He took over in January 2009 with the club in the bottom three and saw him managing nine players who were his teammates just three years earlier. Immediately, Pochettino began to influence his high-pressing system, which has become a trait throughout his management career. He guided Espanyol to a mid-table finish in 2008-2009 and a first derby victory over Barcelona at the Nou Camp in 27 years, who were managed by Guardiola and on their way to a league and European treble.
He remained manager of the club until November 2012, leaving after a poor start to the 2012-2013 season that left Espanyol bottom of La Liga with just nine points from 13 games. He won 53 of his 161 matches in-charge of them and financial restrictions also played a part in his departure.
His next job would see him head for the Premier League in unexpected fashion.
Building on solid foundations
In January 2013, newly-promoted Southampton had just produced an excellent comeback at Stamford Bridge to hold Chelsea to a 2-2 draw. Yet, they sacked manager Nigel Adkins just 48 hours later. It seemed like a harsh decision, especially when Pochettino was announced as his immediate replacement.
He didn’t speak any English – at least in media conferences and despite receiving high praise for his work with Espanyol, there was a lot of caution at this appointment that had been made by the Southampton hierarchy. They needn’t have worried.
A goalless draw with Everton was followed by a narrow loss at Old Trafford, then a wonderful 3-1 victory at home to champions Manchester City. Liverpool FC and Chelsea were also vanquished on the south coast by the end of the season. Southampton survived pretty comfortably.
Pochettino was able to get the maximum out of all his players and improved many too. The likes of Luke Shaw, Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert especially flourished underneath his coaching methods. His high-pressing, attacking brand of football worked at St Mary’s as Southampton improved to an outstanding eighth-place finish in the 2013-2014 season, recording their highest points tally in the Premier League too.
A new challenge awaited Mauricio and that was to reawaken the sleeping giant that was Tottenham Hotspur.
Taking Tottenham a major step forward
Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy was impressed with Pochettino’s work at Southampton and identified him as the long-term manager for his club after failing to be convinced by both Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood.
Three weeks after the 2013-2014 season finished, he was appointed Tottenham manager on a five-year contract, becoming the second Argentine to manage the club after Ossie Ardiles. It would take time for Mauricio to stamp his authority on the place. The squad was heavily unbalanced with a lot of deadwood that needed to be removed from the books. The likes of Paulinho, Roberto Soldado and Etienne Capoue were quickly made surplus to requirements by the new manager.
A run to the League Cup final was the main highlight of the 2014-2015 campaign which ended in defeat to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. Tottenham finished fifth in the Premier League, beating Chelsea 5-3 along the way whilst the discovery of Harry Kane was one of the best stories of the entire season.
Tottenham went a major step forward and Pochettino’s desire to use the nucleus of talent on young English talent was noted. Kane, Eric Dier, Danny Rose, Kyle Walker and Dele Alli were all impressing greatly. Most of the players bought with the Gareth Bale money had now been moved on, with only Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela remaining around the first-team setup.
The 2015-2016 season was Tottenham’s first significant tilt at a title challenge. Spurs were the closest challengers to Leicester City in a gripping contest between two surprise packages. Kane won the Golden Boot and Alli the Goal of the Season for a spectacular individual effort against Crystal Palace. Ultimately, defeats at home to Newcastle and away at West Ham meant Tottenham were always playing catch-up.
It all imploded at Stamford Bridge in May 2016. Needing to win to keep Leicester waiting a little bit longer, Tottenham charged into a 2-0 lead against the outgoing champions but lost their composure and temperament. Nine players were booked, Mousa Dembele was charged with violent conduct and the manager even ran onto the pitch to stop a confrontation between Rose and Willian. Chelsea flickered into life in the second half and earned a 2-2 draw that handed the title to Leicester and Claudio Ranieri.
Spurs collapsed mentally after this and lost their final two games to ensure Arsenal finished above them in the Premier League for the 21st consecutive season. However, massive strides had been made by both club and manager.
The next challenge
Tottenham learned from their 2015-2016 experience and pushed a more motivated Chelsea close in the 2016-2017 title battle. Yet again, Kane clinched the Golden Boot and they went through their final season at White Hart Lane before redevelopment undefeated. Only Liverpool FC and Leicester City managed to leave with points for their efforts. Yet again, their challenge ended in a London Derby, this time to West Ham in May but Tottenham rallied to win their final three games, scoring 15 goals in the process.
They finished second and only seven points shy of the champions from across the capital. Only a disappointing European campaign took the gloss off what was another incredible Tottenham season.
Tottenham are playing at Wembley Stadium in 2017-2018 and despite dropping points at home to the likes of Burnley, West Bromwich Albion and Swansea City, they’ve found their groove of late, defeating Manchester United and Arsenal in recent matches. They are a stronger proposition in the UEFA Champions League too and Kane is arguably now the most deadly finisher in world football.
Mauricio Pochettino has come a long way since his first match as a manager with Espanyol. He has so many admirers within the game and with a bit more luck and experience, he will win silverware. It is a more a question of when it will happen, rather than if.