NEW Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino admitted winning over the club’s supporters will be one of his biggest challenges after he was appointed amid a storm of protest.
Pochettino’s recruitment appears to have been in the pipeline for some time after he revealed he had been studying the Southampton squad “for several weeks”. That will do little to appease the Saints supporters who are angry that Nigel Adkins was sacked yesterday morning despite leading the club to 15th in the Barclays Premier League after back-to-back promotions.
Pochettino, pictured below, confirmed the signing of Norwegian centre-back Vegard Forren from Molde on a three-and-a-half year contract, describing him as “a footballer with great promise”. But that positive news was overshadowed by the reaction to Pochettino’s appointment, with the former Southampton captain Matt Le Tissier saying it had turned the club into a “laughing stock”.
Pochettino’s first game in charge will be on Monday against Everton and he said via an interpreter: “I really want to convince the fans and hopefully they will take me in as they did the previous manager. It is a great challenge to be here as part of this project and [winning] the kindness of the supporters is one of the biggest challenges that I have. I am sure they will be supporting the club for the 90 minutes the game will last. Fans are free to express their feelings. I can’t tell them what to feel but I have a lot of respect for how they react. I hope I can convince them with hard work, honesty and that they enjoy the way the club plays and they feel honoured and proud how the team is playing.”
Pochettino said he had great respect for the job Adkins did for Southampton, taking them through two divisions and back into the top flight for the first time in seven years.
As a player, Pochettino won 20 caps for Argentina. He anaged Espanyol between 2009 and 2012 before he was sacked in November with the Catalan club bottom of La Liga. He left with a win-loss record of 49 wins and 64 defeats from 146 league matches.
The 40-year-old had a number of other options but opted for Southampton after consulting Jose Mourinho.
“I know the Premiership really well. In Spain we follow it closely. I am a great admirer of English football,” he said.
“I spoke at length with people that know this league such as Jose Mourinho, who is a good friend of mine. He told me the best football in the world is being played here.
“The challenge is to win all the games that are ahead of us.
“In the background there is a project to grow the club. Very good players have come out of the academy here. We need to keep on reinforcing that structure so that in the long term we can be one of the strongest clubs in England.”
In making the decision to axe Adkins and bring in Pochettino, Southampton’s executive chairman Nicola Cortese said he was looking at the long-term future of the club.
“This decision has been made with the long-term ambitions of Southampton Football Club in mind,” Cortese said in a statement.
“While we acknowledge the contribution Nigel has made during the past two years, for the club to progress and achieve our long-term targets, a change was needed.
“Mauricio is a well respected coach of substantial quality who has gained a reputation as an astute tactician and excellent man manager. I have every confidence that he will inspire our talented squad of players to perform at the highest possible level.
“He also shares my belief that the most successful clubs are built by nurturing young players through a development system that provides a clear path to the first team, thereby creating a culture that keeps them at the club for the long term.
“This is an approach he has employed with great success in the past and I look forward to him bringing that experience and expertise to Southampton.”
Monday night’s clash with Everton could see Forren, the Norwegian player of the year, make his Saints debut.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” said the player.
“Southampton are a big club in the Premier League, which is where I have always wanted to come and play football,” he added.
“When I was told of the interest from Southampton, straight away I wanted to come and talk to the chairman. We had a chat and I was very impressed – there was no doubt that this is where I wanted to be.
“The plan the chairman has for this club is fantastic. There is a good, young squad here and the way they play fits me well, so I hope I can join the team and get some good results.”
When asked who had actually signed Forren, Adkins or him, Pochettino said: “Southampton”.