One of the more interesting developments during the 2012-13 Premier League season was the firing of Southampton FC manager, Nigel Adkins. Prior to his sacking, Adkins had only lost twice over a stretch of twelve games. He had the best post-war win percentage in Southampton’s history and had overseen consecutive promotions. According to Premier League managers and some football experts the firing of Adkins was harsh.
Southampton executive chairman Nicola Cortese is one of the more demanding and goal-oriented people in all of sports management. Cortese’s vision for Southampton is to have the best academy in England while the club also pushes for European football. He had a five-year plan to see Southampton promoted to the Premier League and accomplished that goal in only two-and-a-half years.
At the time of Adkins dismissal, Southampton was in fifteenth place in the league and was a part of the relegation conversation. Cortese felt Nigel Adkins had “peaked” and had done everything he could do at the club. The chairman thought it was time to bring someone in to take Southampton to the next level and he felt Mauricio Pochettino was the man to do it.
Although Cortese’s decision was met with outside criticism, within the club the choice was understood and accepted. Southampton keeper Kelvin Davis justified the sacking by saying, “We achieved a lot while he [Adkins] was at the club in a short space of time and the club is continuing to grow without him now.”
Mauricio Pochettino came to Southampton after being terminated by the Spanish club, Espanyol in 2012. He had taken over the club in January 2009 and led them to a comfortable tenth place finish in La Liga. Over the course of the next two seasons, Pochettino would lead the club to respectable finishes in the league table (eleventh place in 2009-10 and eighth place in 2010-11). But the club’s form dipped during the 2011-12 season and they finished fourteenth in the league, only six points shy of the relegation zone. The following year, Pochettino was sacked after thirteen games and Espanyol sitting in last place in La Liga.
Despite his termination from Espanyol, Pochettino was widely respected for his footballing philosophy. His club had played a pressing, entertaining style and the Argentine had shown a maturity as a manager beyond his young age (Pochettino was forty years old when Southampton hired him).
Upon his hiring, Pochettino wasted no time instilling his philosophy and mentality with the players. His high-pressing style and ability to squeeze the ball from opponents fit well with his new team. He wanted Southampton to dominate possession. How could their opponents score if they didn’t have the ball?
The manager has been quoted as saying [through his interpreter]: “We want to defend, keeping possession of the ball. We want to be as effective on the attack, to be as far away from our side of the pitch as possible. We also know we are running a certain risk when we play that way because we might be giving the ball away, but it is our philosophy. We want to believe that we can succeed playing in that way.”
Southampton served noticed during Pochettino’s second match in charge when they nearly beat the eventual Premier League champions Manchester United at Old Trafford. Southampton lost to United, but that defeat was sandwiched by draws against Everton and Wigan.
Pochettino’s first Premier League scalp came in his fourth game in charge when the Saints beat Manchester City, 3-1. The remainder of the 2012-13 season wasn’t earth-shattering, but the club remained safely outside the relegation zone while adding solid wins against Liverpool and Chelsea to their results.
Southampton was continuing to move in the right direction and were following Cortese’s vision for the club. And perhaps no fan base deserves stability and success more than Southampton.
Despite various ups-and-downs, Southampton supporters have remained one of the more loyal groups in all of English football. The club has been in existence since 1885, has faced liquidation, and as recently as 2009 were relegated to League One. Regardless of which division the club competed in, the passion of Saints’ supporters has never wavered. The club has continually draws well at home and on the road while boasting one of the louder support groups in the country.
Over the years, Southampton supporters have taken pride in the fact that their youth academy has developed some of the more recognizable players in the league. Alan Shearer, Gareth Bale, and Theo Walcott are a handful of players who have come through the Saints youth academy, only to move on to other English clubs. Matt Le Tissier is without a doubt the most famous product of the academy and spent almost his entire career at the club.
As of right now, Pochettino has done what has been expected of him. Southampton has played eight games, taken 15 points, and is within a few points of Champions League qualification. The club has also retained some of their young talent and seen them gain valuable Premier League experience. Most people around football have heard of Luke Shaw, but fellow eighteen-year-olds, Calum Chambers and James Ward-Prowse have also impressed.
Pochettino has been cautious of his club’s early success while also emphasizing that they should relish their current fortunes. “It is a good pressure to be vying at the top of the table, and it is good that we have gained respect but we can’t be complacent and let this go to our heads”, he was recently quoted as saying.
The unflappable manager was put on notice this week after comments from Nicola Cortese made the rounds throughout the media. The executive chairman was making a public appearance at the Leaders in Football conference at Stamford Bridge this week when he made these comments: “We came up with some plans, that were not traditional in English football, of how we want to structure the club. We wanted a more continental approach in terms of the company structure. In terms of the manager, he has an important role but basically is just a department head like others.”
The media’s interpretation was Cortese felt that Pochettino (or any manager) wasn’t important to the club’s success. The fear was that Cortese had no respect for Pochettino’s position. It brought to mind the recent firing of Nigel Adkins and Cortese’s previous dismissal of Alan Pardew in 2010.
Fortunately for Southampton, Pochettino has not been brought into an exchange of words with his executive chairman. He knows what his job is and he is comfortable in his business relationship with Cortese.
“I would never ever, ever speak about the words of my chairman or the interpretation of the words that are done of my chairman,” Pochettino said. “All I can say is that I have an amazing relationship with him.”
“We get along, we speak every day, we have a great relationship. I am in charge of the sports department. I am very happy within that role. We have a very good relationship.”
“I don’t comment on what the chairman has said. I am the manager. I just try to establish how I want the team to play, our philosophy of how we play football, and that is my role within the team, nothing else.”
He went on to say, “Southampton don’t play the same way as they did under Adkins under Pochettino. It’s also clear that the club has a certain philosophy and the club will try to find a manager to try to execute that philosophy in the way that the club wants, so that’s why I am here.”
So clearly there is an understanding between the two men. It can also be determined that should Pochettino fail to achieve any of the club’s short term goals, or fall short of the club’s vision on the football side of things, Cortese will not hesitate to replace him for someone who can.
For now, the marriage between Southampton and Mauricio Pochettino has been a perfect one for the South Coast club. We’ll see how long the two can last.
Editor’s note: Read more news, opinion and analysis about the Saints on our Southampton team page.