Mauricio Pochettino profile: Son of farm labourer will take hard-working ethos from Southampton to Tottenham

Tottenham’s fifth manager in seven years will put the players through their paces

It was five years ago that Mauricio Pochettino, with his Espanyol side eight points from safety and games running out, laced up his walking boots and hiked 12km from Barcelona to the Benedictine monastery at Montserrat. The Argentine had decided Espanyol needed a miracle to survive and so he would ask the famous black-faced Madonna in the monastery for some spiritual assistance. Espanyol survived.

Pochettino may need a similar level of support if he is to survive as Daniel Levy’s eighth manager, and the fifth appointed by Tottenham’s impatient chairman in the last seven years. The 42-year-old carries something of each of his two immediate predecessors, the “project” approach of Andre Villas-Boas and the willingness to champion youth displayed by Tim Sherwood. But he has a grittier side than Villas-Boas, and more experience than Sherwood, even if he is three years his junior.

Sherwood had the better of Pochettino last season, a pair of 3-2 wins, and was proud of his record during the brief time he was given by Levy. Sherwood was always quick to point to his win percentage and will no doubt have noticed his replacement at White Hart Lane has lost more games than he has won over the course of his managerial career. This is then a step up for Pochettino, from a survival struggle with Espanyol to building something better at Southampton – where they have completed their best Premier League season – to trying to break the top four at Tottenham.

Levy is a chairman who has long coveted what others have, such as West Ham’s Olympic Stadium and, in particular, Arsenal’s perennial place in the Champions League, which is why he wanted Louis van Gaal or Carlo Ancelotti. With those two out of reach, the relative success enjoyed by Pochettino on a modest budget caught Levy’s eye, as well as his ability to achieve swift progress from the start of both his previous jobs. Van Gaal, incidentally, often starts slowly in a new role.

Levy’s expectation will not concern Pochettino. When he took over at Espanyol he was the 13th coach in 11 years, while he arrived in Southampton with players and supporters reeling from the brutality of Nigel Adkins’ dismissal. It did not take him long to win them over in Barcelona or on the South Coast.

It is a level-headed, hard-working approach weighted by where he has come from. Pochettino grew up in Santa Fe Province, the son of a farm labourer. After school in the village of Murphy he and his friends would play football until night fell and then cluster round the radio to listen to crackling commentary of games in far-off places. Occasionally his father would borrow the farm tractor’s battery and use it to power the family’s small black-and-white TV set and Pochettino would catch shadowy glimpses of his heroes.

His playing career took him from Newell’s Old Boys to two spells with Espanyol and then time in France with Paris Saint-Germain and Bordeaux. He was back at Espanyol, aged 36, when he was promoted to manager in 2009. He earned some lofty admirers during a fluctuating tenure, notably Pep Guardiola. At Espanyol he overhauled the youth system, encouraging the promotion of youngsters to older age-group sides. All club sides used the same basic 4-3-3 with a playing style based on possession and pressing, and one built on hard yards on the training field. “He works you like dogs,” as one player put it.

He has done likewise at Southampton, with the benefit of having a productive youth system already in place. Jack Cork, one of the young players to have grown under Pochettino, says you need “two hearts” to play for Pochettino. But the likes of Cork, Luke Shaw, Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana have all revelled in the Pochettino way.

Pochettino has tailored his approach to coaching in the English game. “Here it is a lot more direct, physical,” he said. “The game is more fluid, there are a lot less fouls than in Spain, the effective time of the game is a lot higher. There is a difference of 10 minutes more in real playing time.”

 

There are, however, question marks over Pochettino. He left Espanyol bottom of La Liga after a dire start to the 2012-13 season and Southampton trailed off over the last few weeks of the campaign just ended. There have also been doubts over how he handles bigger names, those perhaps not as easily led as younger players (anyone mention Emmanuel Adebayor?). That is something that will test him at Tottenham.

But in Pochettino’s season and a half in England his side have won at Anfield, beaten Chelsea and held Arsenal and both Manchester clubs (Sir Alex Ferguson is another admirer). These are the results Levy wants.

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