Premier League - Pochettino backing English talent

Southampton's Argentine manager Mauricio Pochettino likes what he sees when he surveys the talent in the English game.

Reuters
Premier League - Pochettino not concerned by form
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Mauricio Pochettino (PA Photos)

Six months after taking on the challenge of developing a competitive top-flight squad in England, the 41-year-old is in a position to assess the strength of the sport in a country with arguably the strongest domestic league in the world.

Pochettino does not buy into theories about the Premier League's vast foreign talent being solely to blame for England's failure to come close to winning a second World Cup.

He also told Reuters in an interview that he believes the problem is not at the grass roots level, where he sees a richness of talent and ambition in youngsters to reach the top, but in how clubs integrate local talent on the big stage.

"For me, the future of English football is good... I've travelled and seen other clubs and, really, you see there is the same quality, the same dreams, the same passion, the same keenness to play football as in Argentina and Spain," he said at Southampton's Marchwood training ground on the south coast.

"Maybe one has to look higher up (to) what happens when... they are 16, 17, what's happening here in English football... not in the formative period but rather when they get to the professional level.

"Southampton is different. We look to improve where we don't have the possibility (of buying), through our academy to incorporate (players).

"We haven't made many signings, three in fact (for this season), and for the rest we look at the people of the house, the breeding ground.

"But we've lived through this before. I remember well in Spain maybe the biggest problem was Spanish coaches not trusting their boys and seeking talent abroad in Brazil, in Argentina, all over, and it always looked as if the foreigner was better than the home (player) and maybe it's happened here and I think there is a need to seek a change."

Change is certainly in the air at Southampton where Pochettino's commitment to the Premier League club's project of bringing young English talent through to the first team owes much to his earliest club experience in Argentina.

He is a product of Newell's Old Boys, a club with a history of producing some of Argentina's best players and coaches.

"I'm Argentine and Spanish but I always defend the culture that gives you the possibility of working, in this case the English," Pochettino said.

"You have to respect that culture, give the kids here the means to be able to evolve.

"With my staff that's our idea, to provide the English players with the means to grow (and) be able to show they're at the same level as a Spanish, Brazilian or Argentine footballer.

"English players are technically good, they are brave, daring and they only need to be allowed to show that on the field and that's our responsibility, the managers and coaches."

A sign of things to come at Southampton is the number of their young players breaking into England's national team set-up at various levels.

Midfielder James Ward-Prowse is a case in point, having secured a first team place this season and earning a call up from new England under-21 manager Gareth Southgate.

"In these six months I've been at Southampton, I've been very well surprised by the English players, I'm very happy with their attitude, their professionalism," Pochettino said.

It works both ways with Ward-Prowse saying of his manager: "He's a very good motivator in training, always wants to get the best out of you.

"You only get out of it what you put into it and he does get the best out of every single player," said the 18-year-old, who wants to emulate Liverpool's England midfielder Steven Gerrard.

"There is talent and quality... we can develop some very good work in the academy. One has to congratulate the people working in this very interesting project," Pochettino said.

"The club has been a pioneer in bringing youth players through into the top divisions. It's a great project and I think it will enjoy a lot of success. Southampton can be a really good example."

Southampton's success in nurturing young talent has produced gems like Wales forward Gareth Bale, who is expected to sign for Real Madrid from Tottenham Hotspur for a world record fee before the transfer window closes on Monday.

Arsenal's England wingers Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also came through the club's youth ranks while the highly-rated Luke Shaw is now following in the footsteps of Bale, who also started as a left back at Southampton.

Pochettino himself played in a Newell's team with Gerardo Martino, now in charge at Barcelona, coached by Marcelo Bielsa and who reached the final of the Libertadores Cup, South America's top club competition, in 1992.

He played down the links with Martino and Bielsa, two of the world's most respected coaches, as a coincidence but was quick to recognise the importance of Newell's influence.

"There have been many coincidences but it is true that for many years... there has been a philosophy and culture (at Newell's)," he said of the club from Rosario where barca's Argentina forward Lionel Messi spent his formative years.

"This impregnates the club with values that are reflected in all the personalities that have participated in that project.

"There are many of us working in football who have fed on that culture, that philosophy."

Pochettino said coming to England had always been a goal even if as player it had never materialised for him.

"In your career you can't forsee what's going to happen and if everything that's happened to me has been nice I've had the luck to make decisions, which is the most important thing, play where I wanted to, play for the Argentine national team, live in Barcelona.

"As a coach I've been able to work in the (Spanish) first division with Espanyol and after five years (have) been able to come to English football. I don't think I can complain, things are better than dreams, right?"

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