Gary Neville: I aspire to be like Tottenham boss Pochettino
Ask me who is the best coach in the English league and I would say Jose Mourinho. But ask me who I would model myself on as an aspiring coach right now and in a flash I would give you the name of Mauricio Pochettino.
I loved what Pochettino did at Southampton because he affected the mentality of how they played, with the high-pressure, high-energy approach. He caused those Southampton players to play differently.
At the same time, he was handed one of the best academies and recruiting systems in England. He was given Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez, James Ward-Prowse, Nathaniel Clyne, Luke Shaw.
It was no surprise, then, that his belief in English players was forged at Southampton, where he mixed the best foreign players they could afford with the best from the academy in a highly effective style of play – high-energy, passionate, good to watch, defending high up the pitch (all the things I would love to instil myself, as a coach).
With his move to Tottenham I wondered whether Pochettino would be able to affect the mentality of that organisation.
Would he be able to get his own way with some of the players who were on longer-term contracts and could be awkward?
Could he handle the complexities above, in the shape of Franco Baldini, the director of football, and chairman Daniel Levy?
Every Tottenham manager for 10 years had run into similar complications. There was not the same sense of anything being handed to him on a plate – as it had been at Southampton.
Looking at Pochettino’s work over the last 18 months, though, there is not one negative word I could use. There is nothing to dislike.
Crucially, he won the power battle with Baldini, who has now gone, and has supervised an overhaul of the recruitment side, bringing in Paul Mitchell as head of recruitment from Southampton.
I’m sure Pochettino won’t mind me sharing some experiences from a day I spent at Spurs last season, when I shared time with him and watched them train.
I met the head of coaching and player development, John McDermott, as well as Mitchell. I liked everything I heard and saw. The way they were progressing was absolutely on point.
On the training pitch the manager had them really running at the end of the session to improve their fitness. The result is that Spurs are now one of the fittest teams in the league.
I was there for six hours and was so impressed. Watching some of his analysis and training gave me a further understanding of the quality of work going on. The communication lines between academy and first team are also now in place.
Pochettino has had to rebuild large parts of the Tottenham house. He displayed great skill in manoeuvring and massaging some of the players he inherited out of the way, while imposing his will on the board, and taking charge of the recruitment.
While proving he can coach a football team, he has also shown he can handle a football club.
It must be significant that you don’t hear Levy’s name mentioned much anymore.
It can only be a good thing for Spurs, and a good thing for Levy, because, after the Gareth Bale sale, the chairman went, in the public’s mind, from someone who had extracted a wonderful price from Real Madrid to a meddler who had squandered the proceeds and was failing to understand football.
So Pochettino is not only shaping the team; he is affecting how the club is run.
When you talk to him he speaks about adopting the culture of the league he is in. He speaks warmly about English players.
I always have the feeling that some foreign coaches pay lip service to what they believe English players can do. But Pochettino really does believe it. Eric Dier has progressed from third-choice centre-back to first choice central midfielder.
And if you had said to me at the start of the season that a player out of League One (Dele Alli), and a converted centre-back (Dier) who was in and out of the England U-21s, would become the English mainstays in the Spurs midfield, I would have called you deluded.
Pochettino is not taking ready-baked cakes. He is moulding people. He can change their positions. He can take an Erik Lamela, whose confidence was maybe shot, and turn him into a threatening wide man.
Moussa Dembele, who was always talented, now looks the weight he should be. Jan Vertonghen is now able to harness and control his ego.
In my role as an England coach I have noticed the difference in psychology and application when Tottenham players come into the camp.
They now arrive prepared for the battle, ready to play, ready to work. They look like they want to partake in the meetings.
All the things you would want from responsible players are there.
It seems to me that Pochettino has given the younger players the confidence to express themselves, off the pitch as well.
For my first two or three years as a pundit, Spurs fans might have thought: ‘Gary Neville must hate Tottenham Hotspur. He never says anything good about us.’
But there wasn’t a great deal to like. Some of the players seemed to half care. The owners seemed to be meddling. And they seemed to sack a manager every six months.
Fans should be going to matches thinking they are getting some level of value.
One measure of that is players who care for the badge, the shirt, who run around an awful lot, who look as if they hurt when the fans hurt. And a manager who is giving opportunities to the club’s own talent, making them dream.
Tottenham fans now can walk to the game thinking: ‘Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Eric Dier – they are young English lads; I could be that player one day.’
Pochettino is looking after a lote more English players than many of his Premier League counterparts.
It sickens me to think a coach could come to work in this country and start out believing English players are no good.
There was a tackle in the lead-up to Dele Alli’s goal for England against France that ranks as one of my favourite moments as an England coach.
There was a sense of pride watching someone perform like that, in his first game, against the likes of Matuidi, Schneiderlin and Pogba.
You are thinking – what a performance that was by a young player. This lad was playing League One football recently. Now he can handle himself against one of the best midfields in Europe. He can run, pass, tackle, head. And he’s tough.
That performance against France was a highlight of my time with England. I gave him man of the match for Spurs against Arsenal for a magnificent performance.
I understand my duties as England coach. I understand the need not to go overboard too early. But I also feel there is no need to hide excitement about a young player.
Why shouldn’t England fans be excited, even if he still has a long journey ahead of him?
If you take away the right of a coach or a pundit or a fan to get excited about a young player, you take away the enjoyment of football.
I refuse to buy into the old line – ‘Come back to me in 100 games.’
This Spurs-Chelsea game brings together the best coach in the league against my favourite one.
In fact, Mourinho is probably the best in the world. Three or four bad months would not change my view on that.
Spurs are not the finished article, and could be weary from their Europa League travels this week. But make no mistake: there is a transformation
under way at Spurs under Pochettino. (© Daily Telegraph, London)