Mauricio Pochettino goes from Real Madrid link to battling against relegation

 

Madrid

It was not all bad news for Southampton's bemused and angry supporters today. Mauricio Pochettino joined the club three months after being fired by Espanyol as they sat bottom of La Liga with just two wins from their previous 13 games, but not so long ago he was being monitored by the biggest clubs in Spain.

In March last year the Argentine was briefly linked with Real Madrid should Jose Mourinho leave. Mourinho had not long since returned from a much-publicised shopping trip to London and as Real pondered the possibility of losing him, Pochettino was on the list of possible replacements.

In June 2009 he had also been lined up by Real as a possible No 2 to first-team coach Manuel Pellegrini but instead stayed at the Barcelona club who he had saved from relegation the previous season.

When Pochettino had taken over at Espanyol they were in a far worse position than Southampton are now. At the start of 2009 they looked doomed and with 10 games left were still bottom, eight points adrift. But with eight wins in the run-in they dodged the drop.

In subsequent seasons he took them to 11th and then eighth and with limited resources had them playing bright attacking football. Shortly after the Real connection last March, Pochettino was again linked to a job vacancy as Valencia planned for a parting of the ways with their coach, Unai Emery. Espanyol were sixth at the time and a switch to the Mestalla looked a real possibility.

He turned that down and also the chance to go to Sampdoria, sticking with the club he had served as a player despite them selling his best talent every year. Last summer Espanyol let 10 players leave.

The replacements were of lesser quality and when Pochettino was fired by Espanyol at the end of October, the 40-year-old was thanked for having taken them beyond their economic means for so long. He had brought 12 youth-team players through to the first team and Poch-ettino's charisma endeared him to fans and players.

That will be harder to transmit at Southampton. He has a limited grasp of English and is dealing with a dressing room and a set of supporters doubting the wisdom of his appointment. Much may depend on reinforcements who come in as "his" players and who preferably speak his language.

The Espanyol goalkeeper Cristian Alvarez has captained the side for much of the season but is out of contract at the end of the campaign and, with his departure inevitable, he has been replaced in the first XI by youngster Kiko Casilla.

Alvarez was brought into the side by Pochettino and they could link up again to solve one of Southampton's problem positions.

Pochettino's former club are not alone in being desperate for funds this month. His knowledge of La Liga and where to pick up players at clubs who can no longer afford them may counterbalance his limited knowledge of the Premier League. The Espanyol midfielder and vice-captain Joan Verdu is another player out of contract at the end of the season.

In a week when the Premier League was expecting to welcome Pep Guardiola to its ranks, Pochettino is a significant downgrade, but as a young coach who likes his teams to play expansive football there are similarities. What he does not have is a sabbatical in which to learn the language, or a cabinet full of trophies to immediately win the confidence of his new players.

He will be best known for his tackle on Michael Owen in 2002 that led to the penalty David Beckham dispatched as England beat Argentina 1-0 at the World Cup. He will hope that does not remain his greatest contribution to the English game.

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