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Jack: Quiet man Pochettino helping the Saints go marching on

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Kristian Jack
10/17/2013 11:28:57 PM
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The first firing of the season in the Premier League was quite an unusual one. Paolo Di Canio's demise at Sunderland was about as predictable as a Coronation Street episode, and, subsequently, was universally applauded by fans and media alike. Not even the League Managers Association members got behind him this time. For the first time since he arrived, Di Canio quietly left the job and the fall out didn't even leave any rubble.

Usually, when a manager is let go the reaction can be of volcanic size proportions, with endless amounts of irrational opinions coming out of the mouths of supporters and fellow managers.

Let's start with a club's fanbase. Football fans are very loyal to their club so when a manager gets fired, the reaction - unless he was absolutely terrible - is usually a mixture of anger and disappointment. Change is something a lot of adults don't do well with and football fans are no different.

When Mark Hughes was sacked at Manchester City, for example, replaced by Roberto Mancini, the club's fans were furious at 'the disloyalty' shown towards the manager. Less than four years later, the Italian was seen as an idol at City whose name was regularly chanted wherever they played. When he was sacked an even stronger reaction followed from the fans.

The second strong reaction to manager firings usually comes from managers themselves. Sir Alex Ferguson was usually always quick to comment about 'the lack of patience' shown to his fellow colleagues as was Arsene Wenger, who had this to say back when Hughes was sacked: "Patience is not a big quality anymore in our society and when football is quicker, the patience is even shorter,"

What Wenger and Ferguson failed to do in these moments is accept they do not need to have an opinion on everything.

'I do not know everything that goes on at that football club, I do not watch every minute of every game involving them so the decision is really up to the people in charge of that club'. That is what football managers should say when asked about one of their own being fired.

In January, Southampton had just got a point at Chelsea and sat 15th in the Premier League table, with 22 points from 22 games. The club's executive chairman, Nicola Cortese, had seen enough and sacked manager Nigel Adkins.

Adkins' dismissal stunned Southampton's supporters and managers alike. The Englishman had guided the Saints to back-to-back promotions, putting the club ahead of Cortese's ambitious targets, and according to the paying public he needed to stay.

"The fans were 100 per cent behind Nigel," said Mike O'Callaghan, chairman of the Southampton Independent Supporters' Association, on the day he was sacked. "He's got us two automatic promotions, we're 15th in the Premier League, so what has he done wrong? It's farcical what's going on."

One respected newspaper columnist described it 'as one of the harshest sackings in Premier League history'.

David Moyes admitted to being 'surprised' and said he was 'doing a really good job at Southampton'. Harry Redknapp said he was 'shocked' and the sacking 'was a blow to English football'.

O'Callaghan and his fellow fans went on to protest the sacking by waving white handkerchiefs at their next game against Everton. Once they stopped waving them they witnessed a change of style focused on high pressing, one that caused Everton problems and stopped them from scoring for just the third time that season.

O'Callaghan continued: "It's not as if we've poached a manager from an established club and can say we're moving to the next level. He's unknown and unproven, and was sacked at a club bottom of the Spanish league. All we've known is success under Nigel Adkins at Southampton. Previous chairmen have made us into a joke, and now the present [executive] chairman is doing the same."

He was of course referring to the new man in charge, a man no one in England had heard of and even fewer could spell his name correctly, Mauricio Pocchetino.

Nine months on it appears Cortese knew what he was doing, after all. Contrary to O'Callaghan's statement, the Italian has far from made his club 'a joke' as they now sit fourth in the Premier League.

Pocchetino guided Southampton to 19 points from their last sixteen league games, with wins coming against Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool but not versus the likes of QPR, Norwich and Sunderland.

A Marcelo Bielsa disciple, Pocchetino went to work on revamping his team's style even though they were in a relegation battle. Asking the team to change their ways from February to May was risky, led to inconsistent results initially, but it worked and their quick passing style has now benefited them this season.

There is a real fluency between the front four, constantly interchanging with the ball and pressing high without it. For the first five games of the season, they struggled to score from open play, but maintained a solid base at the back. Now, they are scoring goals from open play while learning how to keep their shape in periods of difficulty.

"I am very happy, we have shown to be solid, that we know how to suffer attacks from opponents and that we can play football," said Pocchetino after the club's latest win over Swansea.

For the first time since 1983-84, the Saints have conceded just two goals from their opening seven matches in the top flight. Seven of 11 starters have started every game so far and their style of spending a lot of money on few players, rather than a lot of money on a lot of players, is working out perfectly. The additions of Dejan Lovren, Victor Wanyama and Danny Osvaldo have bolstered the spine of the team, while still giving many of the club's young stars, such as Nathaniel Clyne, Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse, opportunities to play.

Staying in the top four is of course an unrealistic target but 'being the best of the rest' and finishing eighth come May certainly is not. To achieve that they must continue to be successful at home. Winners of just six home games last season, the Saints have already gained eight points from four encounters at St Mary's this campaign.

Throughout their early season success, Pochettino, whose fingerprints are now all over the club's performances, still remains out of the limelight, a position managers from continental Europe are much more used to than those in England. He continues to use an interpreter in post-game press conferences and is almost as inconspicious as he was when he first arrived.

The only difference now is no handkerchiefs are being waved anymore.

Watch Southampton travel to Manchester United this Saturday on TSN from 9:50am et/6:50am pt.

Southampton players celebrate (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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