Southampton: Mauricio Pochettino a 'thoroughly modern coach'
Southampton fans may be shocked by the sudden appointment of Mauricio Pochettino, but in Spain few people are surprised to see the 40-year-old Argentine back in a high-profile job.
Pochettino is highly regarded for his work at previous club Espanyol - and that respect has largely remained intact despite his departure by mutual consent from the Barcelona-based club in November and their subsequent revival under new coach Javier Aguirre.
True, Espanyol endured a terrible start to the season and Pochettino appeared unable to turn his team around, but the majority of fans stayed behind him and there was a great sense of reluctance among the club's hierarchy when they eventually made the decision to part ways.
Who is Mauricio Pochettino?
- Centre-half who played for Espanyol and Paris Saint-Germain
- Won 20 caps for Argentina
- Fouled Michael Owen to give England penalty at 2002 World Cup
- Managed Espanyol between 2009 and November 2012
- Won 49 of 146 league matches at Espanyol
The consensus among supporters was that Pochettino had been placed in a no-win situation at a club saddled with enormous debts, where he was consistently forced to sell his best players and deal with seemingly endless boardroom strife.
For many fans, the final straw was the summer departure of homegrown Spain Under-21 striker Alvaro Vazquez to Getafe. When Espanyol then kicked off the new season with just one point from their opening six games, fans directed their anger firmly towards the board rather than Pochettino.
Fans preferred to respect Pochettino for the achievements earlier in his reign and during his time as a central defender for the club.
By the time he took up his first senior coaching role at Espanyol in January 2009, Pochettino was already a popular figure with supporters following two successful spells as a player for Los Pericos, amassing nearly 300 appearances and playing in Copa del Rey triumphs in 2000 and 2006.
In between times, he played in France with Paris Saint-Germain and Bordeaux in a career that saw him win 20 international caps for Argentina. Most famously, from an English perspective, he was the man who conceded a penalty as Michael Owen tumbled under his challenge at the 2002 World Cup.
If Mauricio Pochettino knew he was walking into Southampton amid a storm of protest from fans upset at the sacking of Nigel Adkins, he certainly didn't show it.
The 40-year-old was every inch the new breed of continental coach. He was suited and booted and was quick to mention that he'd spoken to his "good friend" Jose Mourinho about managing in England.
Every answer, other than a brief hello in English, was provided by an interpreter, but Pochettino said communication would be no issue with his players.
"Football is an international language," he said.
Pochettino's introduction to management was no easy task as he took over a team deep in relegation trouble, but he further strengthened his standing with supporters by inspiring his new team to a late-season turnaround that resulted in a 10th-placed finish.
Over the next couple of years, he developed a reputation as a forward-thinking and thoroughly modern coach. His teams played fast-paced football with an emphasis on pressing and ball retention, developing possession from defence, and Pochettino's methods soon attracted interest from a number of clubs around Europe.
Eventually the club's dire financial situation caught up with him. Debts forced them to sell star player after star player, including Jose Callejon to Real Madrid, Victor Ruiz to Napoli and Daniel Osvaldo to Roma, increasingly requiring Pochettino to make do with loan signings and veterans on short-term deals.
One notable aspect of Pochettino's time at Espanyol was his ability to work with young players and integrate them into the first team.
More than 20 academy graduates were introduced into senior football under him and, considering Southampton's strong track record in developing youth talent, that's surely one of the qualities that attracted them to Pochettino.
Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Luke Shaw are just some of the names to come through the ranks at Southampton in recent years.
The biggest immediate challenge for the Argentine is adapting quickly to the demands of the Premier League - an environment he has never experienced but always admired - with a team that is far from safe.
As Chelsea boss Rafael Benitez noted on Friday: "He is a good manager but it is very difficult at the beginning - you need to know the structure, the managers, the players, the referees. In England you have to adapt; it is sometimes a question of time."
An interesting sub-plot for Southampton fans is the potential summer arrival of talented Espanyol midfielder Joan Verdu, a creative playmaker widely regarded as the Catalan club's best player.
Verdu, 29, is out of contract at the end of the season and has not agreed a new deal, with the club struggling to find funds to pay him as they seek to reduce their debts.
A host of clubs across Europe are known to be keen on securing his services for nothing in June. Considering his history with Pochettino, it's fairly safe to add Southampton to that list of suitors.