'He rang the chairman and stood up for the players' - Mauricio Pochettino daring to dream with Spurs
Tottenham appeared to be accepting second best once more when they appointed Mauricio Pochettino as their manager, but that perception has rapidly evaporated.
As Spurs chairman Daniel Levy moved to secure the services of Louis van Gaal in the opening months of 2014, the appointment of the legendary Dutch tactician was being hailed as a potential game changer for the nearly men of London football.
Yet not for the first time, one of the genuine Premier League heavyweights beat Levy to the punch as Manchester United poached Van Gaal.
Tottenham’s near miss is increasingly looking like a lucky escape because as Van Gaal struggles to implement his turgid philosophy at Old Trafford, Pochettino’s stock is rising at a rapid rate at Spurs and when you speak to those who have worked under his watch, it’s easy to see why success is flowing in his direction.
Getting the inside track on modern managers is no easy task in an era when training ground secrets are closely guarded, yet Independent.ie have been offered a unique insight into Pochettino by two of his former employees at Southampton.
A glimpse into the kingdom this insatiably hard working 43-year-old builds emphasises the price he is will to pay in the pursuit of success, with these key points highlighting the dedication Pochettino displays on a daily basis:
* Gets to the training ground at 7am every morning a rarely leaves before 7pm at night every weekday.
* Demands that his players are fitter than their rivals and sets up double training sessions at least once a week, with the second work-out starting as late at 4pm.
* Insists upon loyalty from his players and makes efforts to create that culture by defending his staff at all times to the club’s hierarchy.
* Relies on his tight team of assistants to inform him of any relevant comments made players out of his earshot. Nothing muttered at the training ground will escape their attention.
It says much about the impression left by Pochettino on the Southampton players that there has not been a single dissenting voice about his time at the club since his departure.
The ‘Poch’ way may not have been to everyone’s taste, with the worth ethic he promotes too much for some to content with and yet those willing to accept the military standard fitness levels he craves thrive under his watch.
An eighth place finish in the his final season at Southampton changed the mindset a club that was suffering from an inferiority complex following their return to the Premier League and their continued success confirms his legacy lives on.
“The previous manager (Nigel Adkins) did a job of getting us into the Premier League, but we needed more after that and this is what Poch brought,” reflects one of his former players.
“Very quickly after the new manager arrived, we were going into games against the top teams believing we would beat them and that was very different to how we started the season.
“You often hear players criticise a manager when they leave a club, but everyone at Southampton loved Poch.
“He was a so professional, so driven to do his job properly and so determined to take us as players to the next level. That mindset rubs off on everyone around him.”
A military style fitness regime is at the heart of the Pochettino set-up, with those working under him left in little doubt that they would be shown the exit door if they did not confirm to his ways.
The pressing game he promotes demands high fitness levels and insatiable desire to succeed, but when you are setting examples of how hard you need to work to reach the top with your own actions, your flock find it easier to follow.
“Some of the lads felt his training regime was too much,” says one of our insiders. “We didn’t have many days off and there are players who were jaded and didn’t fit with what he wanted.
“Look at Tottenham now and they are winning games with late goals and outlasting teams and that is all down to the training set-up they are working in.
“It can break some players to have hard training sessions every day, sometimes twice every day. It is tough, but that is the Poch way and you can see it produces results.”
Arguably the secret to the Pochettino success at Southampton and the promise he is showing at Spurs is his eagerness to embrace his players as men and as their boss.
“He treats people so well,” says another of his ex-Southampton stars.
“He is interested in you as a person, your family, what makes you tick. Not every manager is like that.
“He is also a man who is on the side of the players and he will stand up to the chairman or the owners if he feels there is an argument to be had by a member of his staff.
“We had a problem with squad numbers at one point because the chairman was trying to change them and some of the players were not happy.
“So Poch got on to the phone to him and made it clear that they would not be changing. He stands up for his people and incidents like that are important for players. It gained him respect.”
The Pochettino approach appears to be working at Tottenham, with their rise into the Premier League’s top four fuelling suggestions that they could mount a challenge for the title in a season when nothing is predictable.
With a sparkling new stadium under construction and the right management team in place after so many changes under Levy’s confused watch as Spurs decision maker, the stability Pochettino brought when he signed a five-year contract on his arrival has already altered the perception of a club.
If he continues on his current path, Tottenham’s hierarchy may be concerned that the Manchester clubs or Chelsea will come calling for their tactician-in-chief, but that problem can be considered another day.
For now, Spurs fans are following their club’s Dare To Dream motto as they look forward to what could be a memorable 2016.