The Last Word: Nicola Cortese critics should admit sinning against far-sighted Southampton saviour

Like Southampton, Dortmund largely owe success to an innovative coach

Here’s a question for you – and an answer you may well dismiss as perfectly ridiculous. But which Premier League chairmen are looking at this Dortmund team, and justifiably thinking: “That could be us in five years?” Daniel Levy? Possibly. Nicola Cortese? Most definitely.

Of course, we know what they do have in common. This season, both had the temerity to replace a popular English manager with an aloof whizz-kid from Iberian football – one who talked down to the press, and another who couldn’t talk to them at all. But if very few Spurs fans would now take back ’Arry, and duly remember their original outrage with quiet shame, then how bewildering must it feel down at Southampton?

Both the aversion and the therapy have been far more extreme at St Mary’s. When Cortese replaced Nigel Adkins with Mauricio Pochettino in January, he was denounced from every rooftop. Here was the effigy for the bonfire of football’s vanities. The club simmered with mutiny. Even lifelong Saints anticipated relegation with grim relish. Fans of other clubs expressed scandalised fellowship. Just when the team had found its feet, it had been lurched into a tailspin: it was sickening, embarrassing, enough finally to extinguish the last embers of your love for the game.

Only now it turns out to have been a stroke of genius. As their team glides stylishly up the table, taking the scalps of Manchester City and Liverpool and Chelsea, Southampton fans have quickly acknowledged that they owed Cortese more respect. But for the late Markus Liebherr, who entrusted his legacy to the Italian, it seems by no means far-fetched to suggest that Southampton might have shared the doom of their neighbours at Portsmouth. Cortese has not put a foot wrong so far. If he felt that a former Scunthorpe physio might have reached his ceiling, for now, then just conceivably Pochettino had more to recommend him than most people knew. Which, after all, was not saying a great deal.

Pochettino had played for club and country under one of the prophets, Marcelo Bielsa. As manager, he had salvaged Espanyol from relegation before finishing eighth, 11th and 14th; and did all this while routinely obliged to sell his best players and blood kids. “There are teams that wait for you, teams that look for you,” Pep Guardiola said. “Espanyol look for you. I feel very close to their style of football.”

So where are you now, all who vilified Cortese? Southampton fans have taken their medicine with the sweetest elixir. But what of those who pronounced upon another foreign owner heedlessly contaminating the soul of our game? How far were you misled by your own ignorance of a broader football culture? Far enough to wonder now if Pochettino might even look at Jürgen Klopp, and decide not simply to wash his hands of unequal financial odds?

Dortmund are hardly an exact parallel in historic terms, but the present team were assembled inexpensively and owe their success primarily to dynamism and an innovative young coach. If Cortese suspected that Adkins considered survival an ample ambition, he was perfectly within his rights to hire someone who sooner aspired to being Swansea, say, if not Dortmund – not yet, anyway.

Pochettino never had money at Espanyol but that will change this summer. And if there’s another Michu out there, he’d seem as likely as anyone to find him (remember, he came within an ace of bringing Coutinho along with him).

But it is remarkable what he has already achieved with the team as it stands, not least because their signature has become relentless pressing – hardly something that can be conditioned overnight. Osvaldo, who played under him at Espanyol, says that Pochettino “works you like a dog… sometimes you feel like killing him. But it works”.

In three full seasons there, Pochettino raised the average number of tackles and interceptions per game from 19 apiece to 23 and 28 respectively. Under Adkins, meanwhile, Cortese cannot have felt he was getting £7m worth out of Jay Rodriguez. Now the pundits are suddenly talking him up for England.

Rome was not built in a day. Hopes for a fourth consecutive win against West Ham may be unravelled by lingering vulnerability to set pieces. And it might seem ludicrous to build so much on so brief a run. But this isn’t about the ambition since January; this is about the ambition since the darkest days, since a 10-point deduction in League One.

The wringing of hands over Adkins suited many fans ideally. That’s why it resonated far beyond Southampton, to all of us manacled to clubs marooned beyond the elite. Helpless self-pity is our default setting. But Southampton could be the next, after Swansea, to give us all hope.

Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football
News
news
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
News
Melissa and Joan Rivers together at an NBC event in May 2014
peopleDaughter Melissa thanks fans for 'outpouring of support'
Life and Style
life
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
News
peopleWrestling veteran drifting in and out of consciousness
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone