This week, Johnny’s positive look at our managers and how they perform on telly and radio arrives at north London’s very own footballing gaucho, possibly in a star-spangled leather poncho. That’ll be Mauricio Pochettino, then.
Who Are Ya?
Mauricio Roberto Pochettino Trossero is a boyish-looking 46-year-old, six-foot tall, strapping former centre-half from Murphy in Argentina. He started his career at Newell’s Old Boys, moved to Espanyol for the bulk of his career, then moved onto PSG and Bordeaux, before ending his playing days at the Blanquiazules once again.
Got 20 caps for his country, perhaps most famously being the man whose leg was nearest to Michael Owen’s dive to win the penalty David Beckham scored at the 2002 World Cup.
Was only in his mid-30s when he began his managerial career but immediately impressed both tactically and in man-management. While his 32% win ratio at Espanyol wasn’t that good, he was identified as a progressive and popular manager who was good at developing young talent. Southampton brought him over to replace Nigel Adkins to the harrumphing disgust of every PFM in the land, none of whom had heard of him and all of whom were indignant that he didn’t speak English. This was an issue that some returned to in his first year.
At Saints he set about learning the lingo and was clever enough to use an interpreter in press conferences for the first year so that he didn’t give the media any unintended hostages to fortune that some were as ever determined to find.
Transformed them into a more exciting, high-pressing side full of young talent and in doing so got snaffled by Spurs. They were looking to replace a man called Tim Sherwood who, possibly as a result of a drunken bet, had otherwise inexplicably been given the job. That was in 2014. Time flies, huh.
Fashion wise, he’s made no great statements but clearly has the sort of follicle-dense hair that if not regularly tamed will explode like a cushion on an abandoned sofa in a lay-by. As a player he had lush, long hair with highlights and looked like he could’ve been in a rock band. Occasionally seems to be wearing a coat AVB has left behind. Favours the tight jumper under the jacket approach to life that only managers and footballers seem to find satisfying. Don’t they pull under the armpits?
Speaks excellent, clear English and pretty much did so within a few months of landing on these shores. His accent invests his words with a relaxed and ever so slightly louche quality.
Isn’t usually one to slag off others, or criticise players, or give the more sulphurous elements of the tabloid press anything much to chew on. Indeed, like many overseas managers, he seems to have figured out how they work, what they do, how they’ll twist something or try to put words in his mouth and now drives them slightly nuts by not playing their game at all. Sports an inscrutable grin at times which shows them who’s the boss.
Doesn’t appear to have any paranoid tendencies. Even handled the no summer transfers business with a diplomats’ light step.
Media Hit or Miss?
At first he was viewed with some degree of suspicion but as soon as he transformed Southampton into one of the teams neutrals loved to watch, opinions changed. Has an unusual kind of charm to him. Slightly brooding, in a dark-haired gaucho kind of way. Easy to imagine him riding into town on a sleek Criollo for an ice cold Quilmes, all hot and sweaty from a day in the sun on the pampas.
The sort of chap who, even with just one dark stare, can convey plenty. However, this means that when he breaks into one of his lovely round-faced, beaming smiles, the effect is even more warming. Often looks out of the top of his eyes, eyebrows furrowed, the left lower than the right in something approaching a searing scowl.
But can also have something of a saucy, cheeky grin and definitely has a playful side to him, as seen here in that press conference when they wanted to ask him about the Manchester United job. As his amusement rises and he starts to laugh, somehow he transforms into a Danny Dyer lookalike. In these moments it is easy to see why he notoriously enjoys good relationships with his players, why he engenders loyalty and why players want to play for him.
In interviews and longer discussions he comes across, not just as a deep thinker, but also quite a cosmic guy when he talks about ‘energía universal’.
“I believe in it. It is connected. Nothing happens for causality. It is always a consequence. Maybe, it is one of the reasons that Harry always scores in derbies. I believe in that energy. For me, it exists.” Possibly before adding. “Yeah man, like you know, like, everything, right? Well, everything is, like, everything else, man. We are all one consciousness in the universal mind.”
But, no matter how far out Mo Po gets, he can still laugh about a chap hurting his testicles, which is the important thing.
“His charm and the empathy he has with people are among his greatest qualities,” said Guillem Balague about our man. And I think that says it best.
Proper Football Man Rating: – 50%
Yer PFM has a problem with the man they think it’s funny to call Maurice. While they appreciate the fact that at least he’s got one of them foreign names what even I can say, Jeff, the fact is, he’s an Argie, and the PFM is proud of ‘our boys’, likes Jim Davidson and yomping, which is one of their favourite words. The fact that they can’t forgive and forget the Hand of God either also means they must curl a lip at him, even though they are fond of corned beef and once went to see Evita with the ex-wife, so feel they are nothing if not cosmopolitan.
Poch’s lack of trophies is a problem. Why? Because if a PFM can’t hold something in his unpleasantly sticky hands he doesn’t believe it even exists. And although the PFM never actually won anything as a manager, that was because he was denied the opportunities to manage a club that could buy its way to success – which, by the way, was his birthright and it was stolen by someone what isn’t even from here.
Also the idea of improving players and developing youngsters gets right on the PFM wick. What’s wrong with buying in overpriced players from Bulgaria and Serbia and then complaining about the influx of foreigners in the league?
As manager of Spurs he’s pretty much fighting a losing battle, competing against the memory of ‘Arry and Tim, the Two Kings, who were certainly not considerably less successful than a bloody Argie.
Energía universal, Jeff? Never heard of them, I get my gas and electric from EDF.
What The People Say
It’s clear that he’s a man who has attracted a lot of affection. I’d suggest that this is because he’s an easy-to-like fella. He projects inclusive friendliness and is the sort of interesting guy that we’d probably all like as our friend. This is not to be underestimated as a commercial quality but it is also much-needed in a cold world run by weedy inadequates, monsters and utter bastards.
‘No-one seems to have a bad word about him (apart from maybe some bitter Southampton fans). He gets on with everyone. There’s jealousy from other fans; they just cover it up with the same old “what’s he won?” when they’d seriously love him as their boss.’
‘He’s made being a Spurs fan actively enjoyable. Never blames referees, never moans, works hard and is always trying to improve himself and the team. A true gentleman.’
‘As a fan of their arch rivals I desperately want to dislike him, but there is nothing, literally nothing he does to allow that dislike to manifest itself. A gifted coach and all round very very nice bloke.’
‘How he has made players like Sissoko and Lamela, who were deemed expensive flops by many fans, into very important players.’
‘Don’t forget his work at Southampton which laid the foundations for the success of Koeman and helped us progress to our 2016 zenith.’
‘He rarely says anything of note, never goads, never mocks, never blames others and lets his fantastic football team render any public pronouncements on his part largely meaningless. Clearly loves the club and is proud of what he is achieving. A model for others.’
‘One of my favourite Spurs people in more than 40 years supporting them. He reconnected supporters with team after damaging AVB/Sherwood period. Been a true genius this year with endless injuries, no new players and soulless Wembley. Almost got me believing in universal energy.’
‘He has very kind and beautiful eyes.’
‘Lets face it, if you are the manager that Daniel Levy could only dream of having, then you must be a very special person indeed.’
‘Seems like the kind of person you hope your boss is. Demanding yet fair, encouraging and respectful. It’s easy to believe he could help you be better. Also as a spurs fan couldn’t give a toss about trophies last 5 year have been huge fun as football should be 1st and foremost.’
‘Seems like a decent human, and that’ll do for me. Also appears to be overtly suppressing what he really wants to say when faced with a stupid question. Sticks to the football, little time for the soap opera. Good man.’
‘Love watching his teams play, he treats the game and his opponents with respect. Find it hard not to like Spurs at the moment, young and exciting with some high quality overseas talent like Eriksen. As a Liverpool fan I hope he stays where he is and doesn’t end up at Old Trafford.’
‘He is doing football the right way. The football community follow such group think that they’re convinced money is the only thing that matters because they’ve been told it enough times. He’s someone that goes against that and that’s reality shattering and worrying to them.’
‘He’s also that perfect combination of calm, polite and respectful…whilst still very obviously capable of unleashing unadulterated rage. Against anyone my money would be on him.’
‘Also seems to have struck upon the rare notion of coaching your best players to make them better (maybe through circumstance rather than design). Not afraid to exile big names (Alderweireld) and trust youngsters.’
‘He has over-corrected the “spirited” hairdressing decisions he made in his 20s by employing truly awesome tonsorial blandness in his 40s. Other than that, a good enough manager to keep United waiting.’
‘We’re biased of course but separate to tactics, he shows empathy, class and patience. He doesn’t rant and rave, he explains why he does things (bringing on Kane just for Tranmere fans to get a glimpse of the England captain was, I thought, a classy thing to do), and shows respect.’
‘Like that he doesn’t want to make everything about him and doesn’t try to play up to the media in any way.’
‘He must be a magnanimous, generous soul to live and work in England after Owen conned the ref into giving that penalty against him.’
‘He used to manage a women’s football team – as did Nathan Jones. Random fact!’
‘He has a decency, philosophy, sense of humour and intelligence as well as obviously huge football nous. He believes in building from solid foundations for sustainable success. He takes things personally. Everyone inside and outside the club is at least a bit in love with him.’
How Long Has He Got?
As unfashionable as it seems and as against the prevailing culture as it might be, there’s every chance he’ll stay at Spurs for a long time, or at least as long as things seem on the up. Getting them established as a top-three side without the kind of eye-melting investment others have made is a huge achievement and he carries it as proof of his quality. The “he’s won nothing” argument is thoughtless and shallow. That is not the only measure of success nor of a man.
As he’s only 46, there is plenty of time ahead of him. To be the one who transforms Spurs into a long-term successful side is obviously a brilliant historic project to lead. Those who go on about him leaving to manage other big clubs for more money and silverware perhaps don’t understand the nature of the man. He clearly values personal relationships, actually enjoys developing players from the youth sides into the first team and likes to coach players to improve them. Y’know, all those old-fashioned things that managers used to do before just trying to buy great players and hoping for the best.
He’s clearly got the affection of his chairman and of the fans too. He’s the best manager they’ve had since Bill Nicholson and they all know it. He brings a fresh, humane, intelligent, progressive but firm-minded quality to English football and that has been enriching for us all to witness.