The definition of disciple, according to The Oxford English Dictionary, is a follower or pupil of a teacher, leader or philosopher. Marcelo Bielsa is one of football’s greatest philosophers. Bielsa has drilled his style into many players and managers who are now having an impact in the modern game. These include Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino. Mauricio Pochettino in particular has learned a lot about football from Bielsa.
The pair’s first encounter took place in Pochettino’s home during the early hours of the morning. Bielsa, Newell’s Old Boys youth scout at the time, arrived to a sleeping Pochettino. He asked to see Pochettino and upon seeing him told his assistant that “he looks like a footballer.” Shortly after, Pochettino was signed to Newell’s Old Boys. Bielsa would go on to manage Newell’s Old Boys and the young centre back, Mauricio Pochettino, would be greatly influenced by Bielsa’s philosophy.
After winning two Primera Division titles in Argentina, Pochettino moved to Espanyol. During two spells at the club, Pochettino made over 200 appearances and became a cult hero. At Espanyol he was reunited with Marcelo Bielsa, who famously questioned Pochettino on his previous season upon his arrival. When asked what rating he felt he’d played to last season, Pochettino considered giving himself an 9/10 but decided to be modest and answered with a 7/8. Bielsa disagreed, “you were shit” was his reply. Pochettino drove home that day in tears but Bielsa’s harsh style created a humbleness in a previously overconfident Pochettino.
Spells in France later followed for Pochettino, with both Paris Saint Germain and Bordeaux. His time at PSG was the first time Pochettino appeared to be considering his career as a coach. Often known to question coach Luis Fernandez’s formations and selections among other things. He later moved back to Espanyol to wrap up his playing career. It was clear at this point where Pochettino’s career path would take him after hanging up his boots.
Pochettino’s first opportunity as a manager came at the club he had spent much of his playing career with, Espanyol. Tasked with hauling Espanyol out of the relegation zone, he began his managerial career with a credible 0-0 draw against Guardiola’s Barcelona. He eventually leads his Espanyol side to a mid-table finish. He continued managing Espanyol in following seasons, consolidating their position as a mid-table team. However, it was his style of play that was attracting attention. Pochettino preferred a 4-2-3-1 formation and his style of play was intense, with a high-pressing style central to his philosophy. Pochettino was always conscious of youth and was happy to give them an opportunity, the most notable from his time at Espanyol being Philippe Coutinho. His style drew comparisons, and remains to, with his former manager Bielsa. Notably his high intense style of play and willingness to integrate youth prospects.
Pochettino’s final season at Espanyol began with poor form as they sat in the relegation zone. Pochettino left and eventually ended up at Premier League outfit Southampton. His philosophy remained intact at Southampton, preferring his 4-2-3-1 high-pressing style and giving youth aplenty an opportunity. Unable to speak English upon his arrival at St. Marys didn’t stop Pochettino making an impact on English football. Pochettino has famously managed 15 of England’s last 30 debutantes. These include the likes of Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw during his time at Southampton. He also achieved success with the club itself, guiding them to an eighth-place finish in his first full season.
Tottenham Hotspur came calling and hired Mauricio Pochettino as their manager back in 2014. Tottenham is where Pochettino has made his biggest impact as a manager thus far, leading them to 3rd and 2nd league place finishes in his most recent seasons. Frequently linked with moves away to the likes of PSG and Real Madrid, Pochettino has remained at Spurs where he is central to a truly amazing project.
His philosophy is noticeable while watching Spurs. However, he has developed it further than at his previous clubs. His Spurs side are very capable of playing a 3-4-2-1 formation and have seen great success in doing so in a Premier League era currently dominated by three at the back. His impressive youth development quota has developed further at Spurs, with the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Harry Winks prospering under his management. Pochettino has turned Spurs into one of the most exciting teams in England. Some memorable results, including a 3-1 victory over European Champions Real Madrid in the Champions League this season, show that Pochettino’s side can beat any team on their day. It’s not unfair to suggest that silverware is on the horizon for Pochettino’s Spurs.
Unsurprisingly considering his playing career as an uncompromising player, his methods as a manager also follow suit. He showed his uncompromising managerial style with his comments on playing time, back in 2015.
“When you sign a contract as a player, you need to understand that you don’t sign to play, you sign to train. Then the club signs a manager or head coach to pick the players. This is football.”
This quote summaries Pochettino brilliantly. It’s a bold and brave comment yet also intelligent and it’s hard to find yourself disagreeing with Pochettino’s stance. Three traits often noted when discussing Pochettino, in-particular his bravery.
Pochettino frequently displayed bravery during his time as a player. However, he displays a different kind of bravery as a manager. He shows bravery with his comments in the media, his tendency to select youth prospects in his starting line-ups and his style of football due to its risky nature of playing out from the back and pressing high up the field. It’s no surprise his biography is titled “Brave New World”. Sometimes however, his bravery can be confused with arrogance. One of the biggest criticisms of Pochettino, particularly at Spurs, is his lack of substitutions. He frequently waits until later into the match to utilize his substitutions, sometimes perhaps too late. Whilst some fans confuse this with arrogance, I feel it’s his bravery that is behind this. You may agree or disagree with this aspect of Pochettino’s management, but as mentioned, he is uncompromising.
Pochettino’s philosophy is certainly influenced by his time as a player under Marcelo Bielsa. He learned a lot as a player but needed to mature to become a coach. He’s now one of the best coaches in world football and only seems to be following an upward trajectory. Pochettino adapted and added to an incredible philosophy he learned under Bielsa. He seems set to achieve more in his career than his former manager. In the case of Pochettino and Bielsa, the student has become the master.