The highlight of last November’s England international matches against Spain and France was the debuts of Eric Dier and Dele Alli. Despite a 2-0 defeat against the 2010 World Cup winners in Alicante both Tottenham Hotspur youngsters came off the bench to make win their first international caps. Four days later both made their first starts for the Three Lions in a sombre 2-0 win over France at Wembley. Alli capped his performance with a superbly taken goal past his Spurs teammate Hugo Lloris. The North London side were well represented with Harry Kane, Kyle Walker and Ryan Mason also included in the England squad. With this young, vibrant Tottenham squad progressing well is it possible Mauricio Pochettino could be a candidate to succeed Roy Hodgson when the current incumbent moves on?
Born in Murphy, Santa Fe, Argentina Mauricio Pochettino started his playing career with Newell’s Old Boys in his homeland. In his time there the current Spurs coach was managed by the legendary, eccentric Marcelo Bielsa. Pochettino moved to Europe to join Espanyol after six years at La Lepra. A decade at Espanyol was interspersed with four seasons at Paris Saint-Germain and Bordeaux in France. Pochettino’s playing career would be most remembered to England fans for his foul on Michael Owen at the 2002 World Cup to allow David Beckham to redeem himself from the penalty spot four years on from Diego Simeone at Saint Etienne.
Pochettino ended his playing career at Espanyol in 2006 and three years later become the Barcelona based side’s head coach. After four years at Estadi Cornellà-El Prat the club relieved Pochettino of his duties. The following month, January 2013, Pochettino was appointed Southampton manager following the dismissal of Nigel Adkins. Pochettino guided the Saints in their first season back in the Premier League to a 14th place finish and improving to 8th in his first full season. It provided to be his only full season as he replaced Tim Sherwood at White Hart Lane. The Argentinian led his current side to 5th place in the Premier League last season.
In his time in England Pochettino has been known to give opportunities to young players. At Southampton the squad was built around the talented home grown Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers and James Ward-Prowse. At Tottenham Ryan Mason, Harry Kane, Nabil Bentaleb came through the academy to become vital members of the squad ahead of more senior colleagues. Of the last 19 players to make their England debut, nine have been coached by Pochettino.
Is it really enough for Pochettino to be considered a future England manager? The current Spurs boss has just less than three years’ experience coaching in the English top flight. Compare that to England’s previous foreign managers, Sven Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello, who both took the role having never managed a British club side. At 43 years old Pochettino is young for international management, Roy Hodgson is 68 years old, Spain triumphed in three consecutive tournaments with Luis Aragones (Euro 2008, aged 70) and Vincente Del Bosque, currently 64 years old, at the helm and Van Gaal led the Dutch to 3rd at the World Cup last summer, aged 62. However there are exceptions, Germany, the current World Champions were coached to victory by Joachim Loew (54), who himself succeeded Jurgen Klinsmann, aged 40 when appointed before taking his homeland to the semi-finals two years later. Just this summer Jorge Sampaoli (55), another Bielsa-fied manager, triumphed with Chile in the Copa America. Glenn Hoddle took the England job in 1996 aged 39.
Perhaps the reason why the age of international managers is higher than club managers is it doesn’t require day-to-day coaching and is less intensive. Due to Pochettino’s demanding style, and training methods to implement that, it may be more difficult to apply that with an international team, training only a week before a couple of matches every few months. An example where this hasn’t been a problem is Chile where the squad has been together since Marcelo Bielsa’s reign and the system of play has been continued with Sampaoli. With a larger pool of players to select, and a growing number of young, Tottenham players Pochettino is already familiar with, there is also opportunity to select players to apply the high pressing style of play. With technology playing a wider role in football fitness analysis could also be used to select players for the national team.
Would Pochettino have the characteristic to manage the English National Team? The role requires a diplomatic, statesman-like figure to represent the squad. It could be argued that this is why Brian Clough was never put in charge despite England’s failures and his success in the 1970s. Also, when the role was last under consideration in 2012 Harry Redknapp looked to be the favourite, challenging for Champions League qualification with Tottenham however the FA opted for West Brom’s Roy Hodgson. Hodgson was a vastly experienced manager who had coached around the world, including the Swiss and Finnish national teams, speaks five languages and was even once considered for the position of German nation team manager.
Tottenham has been seen in the Premier League era as consistently inconsistent with lots of managers and head coaches, lots of signings and confusion on people’s roles and who is responsible for recruitment. From Martin Jol being fired mid match, Harry Redknapp insisting on being manager rather than head coach and Franco Baldini signing what former Spurs chairman Alan Sugar would surely consider £100m worth of “tut”. In Pochettino’s time at the club he has seen Baldini leave and be replaced by Paul Mitchell, who the Argentine worked with at Southampton. Whenever questioned on off field matters Pochettino has always maintained his job is with the players on the training field and on match days.
In comparison with Eriksson and Capello, Pochettino hasn’t managed at the highest level and hasn’t won a major honour in his coaching career. Despite this he has integrated himself into the English game in his time here. Despite not conducting press conferences and post-match interviews in English during his time on the South Coast Pochettino does have good English, as has been seen with the relationships he builds with his players and more recently in eloquent analysis with the media. This is in contrast to Capello who despite almost four years at the helm never fully appeared to grasp the English language which became an issue of frustration especially during one press conference with journalists. He also wasn’t popular with the players, who described their time with Capello as dull and regimented. This was in contrast to Eriksson who gave the players free reign and was always in the headlines because of this as well as for his own personal life.
Whenever the time comes, maybe next summer or in two years’ time the options for Hodgson’s successor aren’t huge. Of the English managers Alan Pardew is performing well at Crystal Palace and Eddie Howe is the brightest young English manager with an eye catching yet struggling Bournemouth side. Steve McLaren is a manager who knows what it is like to coach England, albeit briefly and without success. If Pochettino was to be selected for the role it could be argued he would be hard pushed to do any worse than the current Newcastle United manager.
In summary Pochettino should, at least, be considered as a future England manager if he continues the success he is currently enjoying at Spurs. An advocate of young, English players, attacking, high energy football the FA would be advised to think of the calm, diplomatic Argentine.