Mauricio Pochettino has a proven track record of bringing young stars through the ranks and into the first-team, something that Southampton has always strived to do. The academy has given birth to some of the best young British talent this generation – there’s Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Luke Shaw, and the £85.3m man himself, Gareth Bale. Pochettino has some of the best young talent in the country at his fingertips, with the best training facilities available to them. There is no better way to showcase this than by making the bold statement of starting three 18-year-olds on the first day of the Premier League season and what’s more, they didn’t just put in a good performance for their age, they beat West Brom away at the Hawthorns. Pochettino, with the vision of Nicola Cortese in a supporting role, has implemented a system that sees the youth sides play with the same formations and tactics of the first team; drilling them in the possession and pressing game, allowing them to seamlessly fit into whatever part of the setup they are introduced to, be it the Under-18s or the first-team, the only step up is the quality. With this system in place the Saints are sure to carry on producing quality in every position, something that ‘MoPo’ would be mad to step away from. There’s simply no better place outside of Barcelona for managers to bring youth players into the first team.
Pochettino has said that this is Cortese’s project but he himself has bought into it and it has equally become his own project in the process. He’s building a team for the future – a future that looks very bright with the current playing style. Yes, boardroom unrest can still affect the players but it is not as if this will lead to them not being paid so the turmoil is virtually above their heads. The term ‘project’ isn’t just applied to the playing staff, it goes far deeper than that. Staplewood, the club’s training ground, has been giving a state of the art overhaul, costing many millions of pounds. Pitches that use all the different types of soil used at Premier League grounds have been created – such is the detail of this, the pitches are all at different levels so that the wind doesn’t affect the ball as much as it would if they were all at the same level. The club have also released a video of ambitious plans for the future development of St. Mary’s Stadium which includes a new waterside development and the obligatory stadium expansion. Some fans have criticised the use of ‘project’ – some say that it puts the club in second place behind the project, but it should be viewed as a positive. For there to be a project, there must be a plan, and a club without a plan is going nowhere – just look at what happened 30 miles down the road in Portsmouth. Pochettino’s project is only in the early stages yet it has signs that it could lead to greater things. Despite Cortese’s depature, it would not be difficult for his replacement to buy into this vision. If he doesn’t then he’s in the wrong game.
The players have full faith in Pochettino and his playing style – that much is obvious by the way that they speak about him in the media and it doesn’t even look like they have been brainwashed and trained to say it. A man of his stature, a former Argentinia international no less, has earned the respect of his players through his playing career and equally through his managerial decisions. Big-name signing Dani Osvaldo openly stated that Pochettino played a huge part in his decision to join the south coast club, saying that he enjoyed playing for him in the past. Of course, respect is a two-way thing and if there’s one thing that can be said about Pochettino, it’s that he respects his players. He does not openly criticise them in the media, he does not talk about personal situations, but he does credit them when they are playing well. The players that the Saints boss has at his disposal are also a class above the rest. As well as the academy talent, it will be hard to stop the likes of Victor Wanyama, Morgan Schneiderlin and Gaston Ramirez when they reach their peak. You could argue that they may have moved on to bigger clubs by then but Southampton do not need to sell. Player power plays a big part in any club, just look at what happened at Chelsea under Andre Villas-Boas, but the team spirit shown at Southampton is not one that’s a PR stunt – it’s genuine. It was there under Nigel Adkins and it’s still there under Pochettino. The players love playing for the club and a manager can’t ask for much more than that.
When the news of Adkins’ sacking became public, tensions rose very quickly. Some fans were angry that such a nice guy had been kicked out of a football club that he had helped rebuild and others predicted the manager would have guided the Saints to survival. Very few people actually credited Cortese for what proved to be a very shrewd decision. None of this anger, however, was directed towards the new man, Pochettino. Having come to England from Spain, Pochettino knew very little English, yet the fans of Southampton stuck behind him from the start. He has more than earned this faith in his time at the club, propelling Saints up to as high as third in the table, and he will have the support of the fans until the very end. He has been lambasted by supporters of other clubs for not speaking English in media conferences but this is simply so that he is not misquoted by the media – if anything it’s a good decision. He’s even corrected his interpreter on a few occasions so it’s clear that he has an understanding of the language. They stuck by him during the tough times so he owes it to them to stick by them when the boot is on the other foot.
There’s nothing worse than not seeing a job through, not knowing how it could have ended or how it could have been. Pochettino has been building a club for the future and he would have to be completely selfless not to wonder what he could have achieved with the rising stars. Manager’s positions often come to a point where they are simply untenable but this has not happened yet in the case of Pochettino. He has been struggling through an injury crisis, but now, with the side close to full strength, the Southampton manager is in a position to help them push on again. Is it possible that one man’s vision is enough to make another quit his job and follow him off the edge of the cliff? Maybe. But does Pochettino have enough faith in Cortese to believe that the chairman can secure him another position following his departure? Cortese is a shrewd operator. Pochettino was right for Southampton at the time but he may not be right for another club. He has moved his family to England and started to build a future for them here, too. It might feel strange for him to operate with a new person at the helm but that is the nature of business and sport, you have to show the new boss that you are still capable of doing the job. Pochettino has started something great at Southampton and he owes it to himself to see it through.
MORE: Man United latest news
MORE: Arsenal latest news
MORE: Chelsea latest news
MORE: Liverpool latest news