Southampton's Argentine manager Mauricio Pochettino is, according to many news sources, the primary candidate to succeed Tim Sherwood as manager of Tottenham Hotspur. We've all watched some Southampton matches this season, but we don't really know how good a fit Pochettino would be for Spurs, or what he'd be like.
To help answer these questions, we reached out to Here Is The City football blogger and Southampton supporter Connor Armstrong to talk about Pochettino, the Saints, and whether White Hart Lane might be hiring a translator this summer.
Uncle Menno: One of the issues most highlighted in the press this past year has been Pochettino's use of a translator when speaking to the English media, though he reportedly speaks English quite well. Have any Saints players expressed concerns with his ability to communicate? Have the Southampton brass ever had an issue with him not speaking English to the press?
Connor Armstrong: Never. In fact, I recall Jason Puncheon on Sky's Fantasy Football Show telling Merson that the best team-talk he ever had came from Pochettino, in English. Anyone who spends some time around the club or the training ground knows that he speaks decent English. Fans who have met him say likewise. More than anything, the use of David Salas (interpreter) is a ploy to keep the media at arms' length. I should clarify that his interpreter only turns up on match days and press days to do the interviews and doesn't spend time on the training ground or in the dressing room.
UM: His initial appointment was viewed as a bit baffling after what was a then-contentious firing of Nigel Adkins. What did you think of his initial appointment, and has your opinion of his management changed at all since then?
CA: I'll be honest, when we appointed him and I got the text alert, I panicked. We'd sacked a successful and popular manager and replaced him with someone practically unheard of on these shores. Has my opinion changed? Beyond recognition. Pochettino's ability to create a cohesive team unit, with such a physically-demanding style of play and yet being able to provide excitement for the fans with an attacking and confident style of play has been a joy to watch. He's also a pretty nice bloke.
UM: Has Pochettino demonstrated inflexibility with tactics in a way that has cost Southampton games?
CA: On occasion, yes. But I wouldn't say he is an inflexible coach. In fact I'd attribute this more to the fact that beyond 14 or maybe 15 players, Saints have very little by way of options. He clearly favours a 4-2-3-1, with the three attacking midfielders allowed to roam, but with the whole team operating a high press.
UM: Do you think his preferred tactics can work at a club like Spurs with its current personnel?
CA: Absolutely. The players will have to buy into him, though. When he came to Southampton he imposed double sessions. Lots of fitness work and plenty of work on how to press as a unit. Pochettino has underlined before that pressing is pointless if when one player presses the whole team doesn't adjust the shape of the side to provide additional support.
UM: What about his personality? Can that mesh with a new club in North London?
CA: Pochettino is not an abrasive character. Don't confuse that with me saying he's pushover, he is far from that. But he is a strong and confident leader and someone who commands respect. Adam Lallana and several other Southampton players have said that he has a certain aura about him and that when he talks, you sit up and take notice because he knows such an impressive amount about football and how to play football.
UM: Southampton have had a number of players explode onto the Premier League scene this year. Do you credit the success of guys like Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Rickie Lambert to Pochettino, or would they be just as good without him?
CA: Jay Rodriguez has changed beyond recognition since the arrival of Pochettino, and has really blossomed as a result. Mauricio's side is built on a philosophy of patient and controlling build-up play before quickly activating an attack in the final third with the roaming players and the use of Rickie Lambert. It works beautifully and some of the attacking play, especially with his tendency to use his full-backs as wingers, is pure, unadulterated excitement.
Luke Shaw credits Pochettino with making possibly the biggest contribution to his development, and it's not difficult to see why. Shaw has come on leaps and bounds under Mauricio, both in terms of his on-pitch ability and his off-field professionalism. Shaw himself admitted that he struggled to have a good and professional lifestyle, but says that Pochettino has gone out of his way to help Shaw to mature into a good professional.
Again with Lallana, he was absolutely superb this season. That is probably why he will leave the club, sadly. Pochettino has given him a free role in a 'No.10 position' and he's grown and grown as a result. Lallana is undeniably the heartbeat of Pochettino's side. As well as avoiding injury this season, a pre-season with Pochettino saw him arrive back with an added burst of pace and bundles of confidence.
UM: Let's assume for a second that he does come and also brings one player along with him to Spurs. Which of Adam Lallana, James Ward-Prowse, or Jay Rodriguez would you, as a fan, be most upset about us poaching from Southampton?
CA: Oh, definitely Lallana. Adam has been with us since he was a kid and as I said above, he is the heartbeat of the team. Whilst I rate Rodriguez highly and feel that Ward-Prowse is destined for the top, Lallana has been such a crucial part of the journey and is such a fan favourite that it would feel as if the heart had been well and truly ripped out of the side.
UM: Who are Southampton's assistant coaches, what are their strengths, and how much influence do they have on Southampton's style of play? Would they come with Pochettino to Spurs?
CA: Mauricio's right-hand man is Jesús Pérez, a Spanish coach that Mauricio met while at Espanyol. The story goes that Pérez was working on an internship with the Spanish club, as an analyst. Pochettino is pretty meticulous and spends a lot of time analysing the game, and so this is how he came into contact with Pérez. Anyway, at the end of his internship Pochettino convinced Pérez to join his coaching staff. Pérez hasn't played professionally, but has been involved with sides all over the world, at club and national level.
Miguel D'Agostino is his first team coach, and less is known about him. He played professionally in the Argentinian leagues, and came into contact with Pochettino via their mutual old club, Newell's Old Boys. They're both of the same age and both played in defence, and D'Agostino is the coach that Pochettino goes back furthest with.
His goalkeeper coach is Toni Jimenez, former player for Espanyol, Atlético Madrid and Spain. He represented Spain as part of the Olympic winning 1992 side. From what I hear and see of the inside of Southampton as a club, Jimenez is an extremely popular character with the players.
UM: How big of a setback would it be for Southampton if he leaves for Spurs? Who is your top choice to replace him if he goes?
CA: It would be a monumental blow. I think I speak for most Saints fans when I say we'd be devastated to lose him, especially at this stage. It'd undoubtedly confirm the departures of Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana. Furthermore, it has potential to spark an exodus as since February, near enough every player press conference has led to the player stating that the most important thing for Southampton's future is ensuring that Mauricio stays.
I've not really had much time to contemplate him leaving, and to be honest I don't want to. I guess I have more of an idea of who I don't want, than who I do. Malky Mackay has been suggested, but that is hugely underwhelming. Likewise I wouldn't want someone like say, David Moyes. I know he did well with Everton, but I want someone who is true to the current philosophy and could carry on from where Mauricio could leave us.
I'd be in favour of giving a young and progressive coach with attacking ideals of the game a chance. Someone like Eddie Howe, or Uwe Rösler.
UM: Who's the next wonder-kid who will emerge out of Southampton's outstanding academy?
CA: James Ward-Prowse is pretty highly regarded, as is Calum Chambers. But they've both already represented the first team. It's important for me to make clear here that Pochettino has played about ten academy graduates in competitive fixtures this year, and doesn't lack the bottle required. The young players at the club all speak about the immense faith and confidence he puts in them. His sheer conviction and commitment to youth development is amazing, he has travelled all over the country following academy games below Under 18 level.
I'd say possibly Matthew Targett, or maybe Josh Sims. Targett is an England U19 left-back and currently No. 2 to Shaw, whilst Sims is only 17, yet has represented England at youth levels with remarkable success. Sims is a tricky and fluid attacking player capable of playing anywhere in an attacking three, drawing comparisons to Lallana.
UM: On a lighter note, we take the hair of our club's players and staff very seriously at Cartilage Free Captain, and there's a wealth of decent hair options at the club currently. Why did Pochettino cut those glorious locks he displayed at the 2002 World Cup match vs. England, and do you think he could be convinced to grow it out again? You know, for us?
UM: Thank goodness he did cut them! Have you seen his hair since? It really is a thing of beauty. I'm not envious. Much.
Connor Armstrong is a massive Southampton fan and a fellow brother in the fraternity of football bloggers. You can read his writing on Saints and other football topics at Here Is The City, and he's an excellent person to follow on Twitter if you want to learn about Southampton Football Club: follow him at @connorarmstrong