From Adam Lallana to Dele Alli, England’s international set-up features a distinctive Pochettino-esque streak
When Roy Hodgson leads his team to France this summer, he will have a lot to be thankful for. In-form young players, two strikers on season-long purple patches that allow him the excuse of dropping Wayne Rooney, and a not-unrealistic hope of progressing to the later stages of the expanded Euro 2016 tournament while blooding what could well be England’s next Golden Generation.
Even if definitions of what a successful campaign would constitute differ greatly, if Hodgson does surpass expectations in France it would be remiss to overlook the contribution of Tottenham’s manager Mauricio Pochettino.
This year he will miss out on the Manager of the Year award to Claudio Ranieri. His Tottenham side’s oh-so-nearly fairy tale will be forgotten as the 2015/16 season will (rightly so) be remembered as the year Leicester won the Premier League against the well-publicised odds. While an end of season implosion spoiled an almost perfect campaign, the difference between second and third is minimal. Regardless of what Arsenal fans may say, second place is little more than a footnote in the record books, as Kevin Keegan will attest.
However, at this summer’s European Championship, England could potentially line-up with no fewer than five Spurs players in the starting 11. Just two years previous, as the Three Lions struggled in the Manaus heat, not a single Tottenham player made the final 23-man squad.
It did, however, feature three Southampton players; Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Luke Shaw – with Jay Rodriguez missing out only because of a horrific leg break suffered at the end of the Premier League season. All four Saints men won their England debut when managed by Pochettino at club level, and while injuries and age are mitigating factors, it cannot be said that Luke Shaw has improved discernibly since his move to Manchester United, while Lallana’s form under Rodgers was worrying to say the least.
It is also no coincidence that Tottenham’s crop of young talent has flourished at club and international level since the Argentinian took the reins at White Hart Lane.
Three years in English football and Pochettino is already regarded as one of the league’s top coaches. However, it is what he has done beyond the clubs he has been at the helm of that is really to be admired.
In just three years, Pochettino has done more for England’s international set-up than any manager has done in the previous thirty. His secret belief in the academy system. Sir Alex Ferguson did it with the class of ’92, Mauricio Pochettino has done it every year since he hit English soil.
And yet, just three years ago, when he landed on the south coast, few football fans in England had ever heard of Pochettino.
A fresh-faced Argentine rookie who played most of his career in Spain and France and had just three years’ experience managing in La Liga, what did Nicola Cortese know that the rest of the footballing world didn’t? Consider also the opprobrium at the time, with predecessor Nigel Adkins widely regarded as fulfilling the potential of the south coast club.
The following season Pochettino took the club to a (until now) record eighth finish and all Saints fans hailed their Argentine gaffer.
What he did, and what he has since also done at Tottenham, is trust; placing trust in youth, a trust in the academy system and (the important thing, if you are English) a trust that English players are good enough to take on the Premier League’s best – or indeed, that they are among the best. At Southampton, he transformed Adam Lallana from a from a lower league club captain to a dynamic Premier League performer, who under Pochettino's guidance was arguably the league's best midfielder of the 2013-14 season, featuring in that year’s PFA team of the year.
At Tottenham he has turned Harry Kane into England’s most-clinical striker since Alan Shearer.
Given his record so far, it is not inconceivable that he could do a similar job at any other Premier League club – first finding the rough diamonds in the academy set-up and then nurturing and developing them to the point where they become the jewels in English football’s crown.
However, other Premier League managers should take note. Instead of splashing millions on overrated players making waves in France or Holland, look closer to home and put some trust in what is already there.
Sure, producing a Harry Kane or a Dele Alli is a rarity, but I’m convinced most teams have the equivalent of a Danny Rose or a Kyle Walker lurking in their ranks, or at the very least a couple of decent squad players like Tom Carroll or Ryan Mason.
All it takes is a little faith in the system. There is no point throwing young talent on for 10 minutes here or there. Take a leaf out of Pochettino’s book. Fill your squad with confident young players, give them responsibility, let them play!