Inside Secrets of Chelsea’s New Manager Mauricio Pochettino’s Success: Tough Love, Trusting Youth, and Being a ‘Protagonista’

This is the clearer influence of Bielsa on Pochettino and indeed English football. So, when England took on Spain in Seville last year and inflicted the first home defeat on their hosts in 15 years, that was the most ‘protagonista’ England performance since they had beaten Holland 4-1 in 1996 under Terry Venables.

And there is no doubt that Southgate owes a debt to the current wave of Premier League coaches playing that way: Pochettino, Jurgen Klopp, and Guardiola.

However, as Balague points out, there is a fundamental difference between a Pochettino team and a Bielsa team when they have won the ball back. Partly it is an element of directness. Pochettino’s team play the ball forward quicker.

But also, it is unlikely that Bielsa would be happy winning a game with 40 percent of possession, as Tottenham did against Chelsea in November, one of their best performances of the season. Sensini, who played with Pochettino under Bielsa at Newell’s, says: ‘At Spurs, I see a very aggressive team, like Bielsa’s, but Mauricio has his own details,’ he says. ‘Bielsa’s would be more rigid in the tactics.’

One aspect of the Pochettino revolution that is often overlooked is the role of Jesus Perez. The quartet of Spanish-speaking coaches are often seen together at Spurs’ training ground sharing mate, the Argentine infusion drink that D’Agostino and Pochettino have introduced to English football culture. But it is odd that Perez is arguably the most influential as he’s the one Pochettino met last and who only became an assistant by accident.

He was an appointee of Espanyol sporting director Ramon Planes, not of Pochettino, and only joined to help out with the youth and under-21 teams. And he wouldn’t have been helping out Pochettino if it hadn’t been for a defection.

Pochettino had shelled out £7,000 of his own money to get some prototype software to help with match analysis: the more detailed stats and video analysis, routine today but innovative 10 years ago and another feature of any Bielsa disciple. Pochettino had even paid for a young assistant coach to train on the software so they could use it during a match. The assistant repaid him by waltzing off to Barcelona when they offered to double his salary to do the same job there.

However, the new under-23 helper, Perez, was the only other staff member who could work the software. Slowly, surely, he was integrated into Pochettino’s team.

He had worked at Gimnastic de Tarragona, Castellon, Real Murcia, Pontevedra, Rayo Vallecano, and Almeria in various coaching roles but had just come back from a spell in Saudi Arabia with the national team and Al-Ittihad. Perez is a jack of all trades in football terms: coach, analyst, fitness expert. Yet, that latter moniker was perhaps the most significant and possibly the secret behind Pochettino. He studied physiology at university for five years. Even now, it is still uncommon for fitness experts to be the No. 2 at a club, though there should have been some clues from the past. Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho both studied sports science; both changed the dynamic of football in the last decade because they understood physiology properly. Perez belongs in that bracket.

Getting Luke Shaw into shape was a fairly obvious task at Southampton. Less noticed was the job he did on Kane at Tottenham. Kane wasn’t that highly rated. He was the striker used only in the Europa League, with Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado ahead of him. Indeed, Kane didn’t start a Premier League game under Pochettino until November 9 that first season, against Stoke (and they lost2-1). By then, something had changed. Kane had been to see Pochettino to ask why he was only on the bench.

Pochettino didn’t sugarcoat his reply. “He said that my body fat was high, I wasn’t trying as hard as I could, and that was it!” recalled Kane. Kane admits that his body fat was 18 percent when Pochettino took over at the club. Meaning: too fat to be an elite striker. And Kane’s conditioning and the care he takes over it now – the second home within a few minutes of the training ground, the personalised chef and, crucially, the input of Perez – would likely be one of the key factors in his elevation to the world’s elite group of players.

But Perez is much more than a fitness guru. In Brave New World, Pochettino explains how his assistant is crucial in the coaching and motivational role. “Around that time [March 2017] I had a very tricky conversation with one of the key men, whose name I’ll keep to myself.” [Pochettino has never confirmed this but the circumstances suggest it is Son Heung-min.] “It was our second in the space of two years. I got Jesus to prepare the ground and they spent almost an hour talking.

“I swooped in to add the finishing touches, although Jesus kept chiming in with phrases like, ‘You do this in training, this in games and theseare the statistics.’ I went down the contract route: ‘If you carry on like this, we don’t need you.’ There ended up being a trigger in a video we showed him, clearly proving that he reacted conservatively on two occasions in the same match instead of doing what he should’ve done, which was to move forward. His decision affected him and the team. ‘Ah, yes, it’s true. I made a mistake,’ was his response when he saw it. He wasn’t going to feature against Millwall [in the FA Cup] the following weekend, but I decided to play him and he was brilliant.”

The Pochettino manifesto is probably as well encapsulated there as anywhere: his ability to work with individual players, often young ones; to lift them, in Son’s case, from being a good player to world-class; the need to be a protagonista, not conservative; the tough love he is willing to show in threatening not to renew his contract; but also the importance of Perez.

It was also Perez who, along with Pochettino’s wife, Karina, persuaded Pochettino to take a chance on Southampton. Pochettino jokes that his assistant had a vested interest, in that he spoke English and Pochettino didn’t. That in itself almost scuppered the move.

By Lylla

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