Football Expert & Columnist
Mauricio Pochettino for Premier League glory before Pep Guardiola, says Niall Quinn
Last Updated: 21/03/17 8:31pm
He plied his trade in Pep Guardiola's shadow in Spain but back Mauricio Pochettino to win the race for Premier League glory ahead of his old La Liga rival, says Niall Quinn...
I watched two matches on Sunday and thought about the old story of the tortoise and the hare. Spurs beat Southampton to consolidate second place. Manchester City managed a draw with Liverpool. I don't know if Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino took too much notice of what each other's teams were up to but Pep must be feeling a little bit like that hare who suffered the famous odds-on defeat.
Guardiola and Pochettino played good chunks of their careers in the same city. Pep was an idol at Barcelona. Poch did two tours of duty with Espanyol. If there was a rivalry at all you probably had to be a Catalan to notice. Pochettino was a sturdy all-in defender; Guardiola conducted the orchestra at the Nou Camp.
When he retired from playing Guardiola was handed the Barcelona B side to cut his teeth on. In 2008 he took over from Frank Rijkaard as the first team manager. Right out the gate, Guardiola took Barcelona to a treble, winning La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League.
In late January 2009 hardly anybody noticed when Pochettino became manager of the chaotic club that was Espanyol. He was their third coach that season and Espanyol were third from bottom of the table. While Guardiola had learned his trade at the mini Nou Camp, Pochettino had completed his coaching badges while manager of the women's team at Espanyol.
His first game was played the day after he was appointed: against Barca. He trained Espanyol on the morning of the game, instructed his team to press hard and got away with a 0-0 draw.
Guardiola won more trophies than he could count at Barca and then like the hare he took a nap for a while before it was announced in January 2013 that he would be taking over at Bayern Munich a few months later.
That same month Pochettino was named managed of Southampton. The previous November he had been ditched by Espanyol. He came to Southampton to replace Nigel Adkins, whose own sacking seemed shocking at the time. Pochettino spoke English but not confidently enough to do his business in the language. He was unknown in England, apart from having been in the picture when Michael Owen tumbled over for a penalty against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup.
Southampton's chairman Nicola Cortese knew what he was doing, though. At Espanyol, Pochettino had got by as the budget got slashed and slashed. He brought player after player through from the youth team - just what Southampton needed, although nobody down on the south coast seemed to be happy about his arrival at the time.
Eighteen months later he moved on to Spurs. On Sunday, there were some hairy moments against his old club and with Harry Kane missing Spurs looked a little bit out of focus at times, but they have become something that makes them unrecognisable as a typical Spurs team. They get results. They are consistent. They rode their luck a little bit on Sunday but they have only lost three league games so far this season. And they are still in the FA Cup. They just don't get turned over that easy anymore domestically.
Of course they had the long hard trek of playing in the Champions League and then getting bumped down into Europa League. There weren't many good nights for them on the big pitch at Wembley but Pochettino has turned Spurs into a team who look as if they will be Champions League regulars as well as serious contenders for a league title soon. They don't look as frisky as they did last year when letting the title and then second place slip from their grasp down the straight.
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Guardiola of course started the year at City with a fireworks display, winning 10 straight games and making us all wonder if the English game could really be that easy to conquer after all. For now, though, he has been overtaken by Pochettino whose project looks far closer to completion. It's not as obvious as City's start to the season but Sunday was Spurs 10th league win in a row at home. That run includes giving Chelsea a beating.
Pochettino is famous for his hard work and his 12-hour days at the training ground, which often include double sessions for his players. You could see this influence on Sunday. In the first half in particular the pace just never let up from either team. Pochettino has adapted his own philosophy to the English game. As somebody said, you don't have to go looking for Pochettino's teams, they come looking for you. They press hard and disrupt possession all the time.
People first began to take him seriously as a Premier League manager just a few weeks into his reign at Southampton. They played City, who were then the league champions, and turned them over 3-1 on a day when City had a shocking pass completion rate.
Now his old rival Guardiola is at City and trying to adopt the team to his own philosophy. It's been a tough process and seeing his team outplayed by Monaco in midweek must have added another bit of self doubt to Guardiola's mind. There is a lot of work to be done at the Etihad.
Watching Spurs on Super Sunday, it was hard not to be impressed by how comfortable they look with what they are doing and hard not to compare it to the situation of their old friends Arsenal. Spurs fans have had too many seasons when they celebrated false dawns - they're still a bit shellshocked from last year's surrender - but they are now nine points ahead of Arsene Wenger's team and Wenger must bring his side to White Hart Lane.
Second place with a few points separating them from Arsenal would be enough for most Spurs fans this season. Second place and ahead of Guardiola would be just about enough for Pochettino you would imagine.
If he hadn't been so loyal to Espanyol down through the years Pochettino would be better than a 14-1 shot to be lured to the Nou Camp this summer. Those are the same odds as Wenger is being quoted at. Not tempting.
Spurs will benefit from the loyalty. The man that they used to call The Sheriff when he managed in Spain runs White Hart Lane within the club's structures and with an eye for developing good young players.
I wouldn't waste a penny on betting on him to go to the Nou Camp. I'd have a small flutter at nice odds on the tortoise beating the hare to a Premier League title over the next few years though.