Oh To Be Mauricio Pochettino...

No manager is in a stronger bargaining position right now than the Saints boss - his decisions are not placed under scrutiny so he looks better than big names...

Last Updated: 18/12/13 at 14:37 Post Comment

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While Malky Mackay was being told that "not a single penny" will be available in the January transfer market after spending more than 13 other Premier League clubs in the summer, one of the six managers who spent more is reportedly set for a bumper new contract (all new contracts are 'bumper'; it's the law) because Tottenham are casting admiring glances in his direction. It's an incredibly good time to be Mauricio Pochettino.

Extravagant summer spending is not the only place where Mackay and Pochettino's paths cross as their clubs have identical records over the last eight games. They have both won just twice and drawn/lost thrice to give themselves nine points - less than Crystal Palace and marginally more than Sunderland. A difficult fixture list might be a mitigating factor, but Pochettino is fortunate to benefit from Tottenham's interest on the back of that chastening run.

There is no greater manager than one whose decisions are not placed under any real scrutiny. All the media sees is a team achieving above their station (though in squad value terms, mid-table should be roughly Southampton's level and they are currently ninth) and a starting XI with a fine smattering of English players. They are wilfully ignoring the £36m spent this summer (all on foreign players), while Pochettino's team selections are made under a radar that bottoms out somewhere just above the south coast. It seems an awful long time since the sacking of Nigel Adkins was derided as a disgrace by both fans and pundits.

This is not to say that Pochettino is not a good manager (as Nick Miller wrote here, we really have no idea) but it's rather easier to look better than Andre Villas-Boas, Arsene Wenger or David Moyes when your actions are not being scrutinised. Like the Arsenal fan who famously wanted Owen Coyle to replace Wenger or anybody who suggested Steve Clarke could return to Chelsea as manager, heralding Pochettino as a viable option for any big job after less than a year in English football is incredibly short-sighted.

While every minute tactical decision - from the selection of the left-back to the use of inverted wingers - is dissected when you are the manager of Arsenal or Tottenham, there are no national newspaper journalists asking why Pochettino has split the mean defensive partnership of Dejan Lovren and Jose Fonte, discarded £13m signing Gaston Ramirez or dropped Adam Lallana to reunite the underwhelming Dani Osvaldo (£15m) with Rickie Lambert. Nobody is pointing out that Southampton play more long balls than any other Premier League side and have a pass completion rate lower than Fulham.

It's not that those statistics are a barometer of quality but they're exactly the statistics that would be seized upon if Pochettino managed a higher-profile club. Instead, the media talk vaguely about a 'high pressing game' after reading a tweet from Jonathan Wilson and fawn over his use of Lallana, Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse and Jay Rodriguez while nasty (more successful) clubs like Chelsea field teams of foreigners.

Pochettino may well be a phenomenal football manager - despite being sacked by Espanyol when they were bottom of La Liga - and his tactical blueprint certainly suggests his methods could eventually transfer elsewhere, or he might be a 12-month wonder who was lucky enough to inherit an excellent crop of young players and be given considerable money to supplement with relatively expensive signings. Whatever the truth, his stock is so high that he will inevitably be handed either a bigger club or a bigger contract by the end of the season.

Like we said, it's an incredibly good time to be Mauricio Pochettino.

Sarah Winterburn

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