When the end of season awards are handed out, do not be surprised if Southampton’s Mauricio Pochettino lands the coveted Manager of the Year prize. The Argentine has done a sensational job since arriving at the unfashionable south coast club and has won plaudits from fans, pundits and his peers alike.
Pochettino has turned the Saints from relegation fodder into serious candidates for a place in Europe. And, whisper it quietly, if he carries on what he has been doing he may even guide Southampton into the Champions League.
The Saints are currently third in the Premier League going into the international break. They have already beaten Liverpool 1-0 at Anfield and drew 1-1 at Manchester United so their lofty position is no fluke. They will face tough tests with trips to leaders Arsenal and Chelsea in their next two games, although they will have little to fear based on their early season form.
Yet little is known about the softly spoken Pochettino. Before becoming the second Argentine to manage a top level club after Ossie Ardilles, Pochettino was known in England mainly as the Argentina defender who fouled Michael Owen to concede a penalty to England at the 2002 World Cup.
He is now making his mark in stunning style and become one of the most promising young managers in the game. He cut his managerial teeth at his former club Espanyol, where he won two Copa del Rey trophies as a player. Yet after three relatively successful seasons as manager, he was sacked almost a year ago to the day following a 2-0 defeat to Getafe CF that left them bottom of the table with just nine points from 13 matches.
So when he arrived at Southampton in a blaze of controversy in January, no-one held out much hope he would save them from the drop. With the whole of football condemning the club for sacking Nigel Adkins, who had led them to successive promotions, many people were hoping Pochettino would fail spectacularly and lead the club to relegation.
Yet he gave a glimpse of his superb managerial style as Southampton went on to survive and chalk up impressive wins over Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea along the way. If people thought that was a one off he has shown otherwise this season as he has shaken up the Premier League.
His football philosophy favours a high pressing attacking style with emphasis on possession. He favours usually a 4-2-3-1 formation, building from the back, intimidating and unsettling opponents easily.
He has also been praised for giving youngsters their chance with local players being given a chance in his sides. And, of course, he has overseen the development of England trio Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriquez, who have all been called up for the friendlies against Chile and Germany.
His style has even impressed Saints legend Matt Le Tissier, a notable critic of chairman Nicola Cortese. He said: “In terms of the strength of the squad this is far better than anything I can remember during my time at the club.”
Yet he remains reluctant to accept the plaudits which has come his way. He admitted: “It’s not down to me – it’s about the players. They have been magnificent this season.”
If Pochettino continues into the New Year the way he has been in 2013, he had better leave a space on the fireplace for a certain award at the end of the season.