Sunday, 20 January 2013

Mauricio Pochettino: from Espanyol to Southampton

Nigel Adkins' Southampton, after rising from the darker regions of League One to the bright, intimidating lights of the Premier League, came back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 away from home against Chelsea last Wednesday evening.

Following the match, an upbeat Adkins spoke to the media and praised his players' "great character" and success at gaining a "valuable point" against a side who he, as well as many others, rightly considered a tough opposition. Even as his team trailed 2-0 before half-time, the pocket of Southampton fans' chants of support for Adkins filled Stamford Bridge. Whether he was aware of the supposed rumours of his fate which circled within the club before the match, is hard to say.

'Memorable' was a word used to describe Wednesday from Saints' perspective. What happened to the admired, professional Nigel Adkins under two days later, however, was at the other end of the scale.

The 47 year-old was well liked within the club he stood for and among the fans, making what happened on Friday afternoon rather brutal. Furthermore, it is made even worse due an explicit statistic which proves that all was in fact going well: Adkins had inspired his side into retrieving 18 points from their last 12 Premier League matches. In those matches, Southampton lost only twice. 

Nigel Adkins was unjustly sacked after successive promotions and a creditable Premier League season so far. 

In proportion, such a sacking is on par with that of what Roberto Di Matteo experienced at Stamford Bridge; incidentally, the location where the last hurrah of Nigel Adkins as Southampton manager was to occur.

Back to back automatic promotions within the gritty English football league would be a momentous achievement worthy of praise for any well known manager; never mind for a man whose managerial career began in the League of Wales at Bangor.

Opinions about exactly how outrageous Adkins' dismissal is could fill this article from beginning to end. However, his successor is in place and becoming accustomed to the expectant spotlight.

England; Meet Mauricio Pochettino.

Pochettino: young, dark haired, Argentinian, unable to speak English and the owner of Spanish footballing morals and tactics which, in fact, newly appointed Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola felt "close" to. His exit from Catalan side Espanyol of La Liga in November was due to his side's presence at the bottom of the table. Beforehand however, over three and a half seasons, he worked tiny miracles given the club's treacherous financial situation.

Pochettino joined the club amidst a crisis, and departed during one also. The moderate domestic success he experienced as coach of Espanyol included a deserved Liga survival (they ended the season in 10th after languishing in the relegation zone) after taking over in January 2009. Then they finished 11th. Then eighth.

Mauricio Pochettino has much to emulate if he is to win over the Southampton fans. 

The apex of the Argentinan's tenure was said eight placed finish, as the club subsequently fell to 14th the following campaign. Although, it is definitely worth considering that he was feeding off scraps; in the summer prior to his final few months in the job, Pochettino witnessed ten players leave the club with simultaneous and inconvenient feuds between shareholders. And those occurrences replicated throughout his time at Espanyol; each summer, he could only spectate as his club, subject to predators, sold their best players - including Jose Callejon to Real Madrid. The idea that Pochettino is therefore a manager who will sentence his new club to relegation seems to be a knee-jerk reaction.

These factors suggest that, should Pochettino successfully adapt to the English Premier League, Southampton could be in for an interestingly successful era under the Argentinian. The club is in a stable financial situation and, in addition, stylish players like Adam Lallana suit his Guardiola-friendly philosophy. 

In Spain, the 40 year-old's appointment in England was met with little surprise, as he was always popular and highly regarded among the fans of Espanyol; it is the board who cannot boast such respect. What exactly St. Mary's is about to experience, however, is unanswerable at this present moment thus meaning inevitable predictions, expectations and judgements shall be rife.

Southampton's next few fixtures may well be rather hostile for Pochettino, who is far from a household name among many an English football fan. Saints' fans only ever wanted Nigel Adkins, and their frustrations will be evident. Yet that does not mean that a young, eager Argentinian, who is probably leafing through The Oxford English Dictionary as you read this, cannot create a legacy for himself at the club in a similar manner to the one which his predecessor left behind.

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