While Nigel Adkins’ sacking has been viewed here as a harsh decision, the story has been seen differently by some commentators in Spain. Adkins had just lead the Saints to back-to-back promotions, the club are currently five unbeaten in the Premier League and moving away from the drop zone. However, in Spain it is recognised that the South-Coast club have just acquired one of the best young coaches in the game in his place.
Some people in England may know Mauricio Pochettino as the Argentina defender who brought down Michael Owen to earn England a penalty and the game’s only goal in the 2002 World Cup finals. Across Europe he is known for taking an ailing Espanyol side to the cusp of European football in spite of tight financial restrictions.
But Pochettino’s introduction to management was not a comfortable one. He inherited a club languishing at the bottom of La Liga, still coming to terms with the tragic death of captain Dani Jarque a year earlier. A new stadium had been built but felt far from home and relegation was seemingly inevitable. However, the Argentine guided Las Blanquiazules (the blue and whites) to a 10th place finish and was handed a three-year-contract for his efforts. Pochettino had only retired two years previously and was coaching the Espanyol women’s team when he was given the call.
The following year they again finished comfortably in mid-table but the 2010-11 season was even more productive for the 37-year-old rookie coach as his changes began to take hold. He mixed youth with shrewdly purchased imports like Italian forward Pablo Osvaldo, Cameroonian stopper Carlos Kameni and attacking-midfielder Luis Garcia. The academy was also flourishing under the Argentine’s stewardship. Home-grown players, including Jordi Amat, Victor Ruiz, Didac and Javi Marquez, all broke into the first team.
Pochettino had also implemented an attacking style of play which won the club many admirers and points. In the 2009/10 season they spent much of the campaign in the top five before eventually slipping to eighth. However, the vultures were circling, and the club cashed in on its top assets. Osvaldo moved to Roma, Jose Callejon to Real Madrid, Didac to Milan and Victor Ruiz to Napoli. Espanyol’s financial problems made progression almost impossible, but despite that, they still finished 14th in 2012, having been as high as fourth at Christmas.
The next batch of Espanyol starlets were shipped off to the highest bidders and the rot really set in. Pochettino’s young side were now struggling to maintain their attacking style as defeat followed defeat and the situation began to look bleak. The now 40-year-old manager was soon at odds with the board over the financial restrictions being placed upon him, and could only manage two wins in the first 13 games of the season. With Espanyol sitting bottom of the table, his contract at the club was terminated by mutual consent at the end of November.
Javier Aguirre has since replaced Pochettino at Espanyol and his early turnaround has prompted questions about the Argentine’s record towards the end of his time in Spain. But one lasting legacy was his ability to promote youth and integrate them into the first team.
More than 20 academy graduates were introduced into the senior side under him and, considering Southampton’s strong track record in developing young players, that’s surely one of the qualities that attracted them to Pochettino. Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse are already emerging as key players at St Mary’s and they could play an even bigger role under the new manager.
The former-Espanyol defender, can also boast an impressive transfer record and knows the Spanish and Argentine markets. With the likes of Michu and Jonathan De Guzman starring at Swansea, Saints fans will be hoping Pochettino can unearth more gems from the financially vulnerable La Liga. However, the biggest challenge for the Argentine is adapting to the demands of the Premier League, something his popular predecessor, Nigel Adkins, had accomplished before his untimely dismissal.
- Top six
- Mid-table mediocrity
- Relegation dogfight
- Going down