Ahead of Tottenham’s League Cup face-off against Chelsea, Ian Walker looks at Marcelo Bielsa”s influence on Mauricio Pochettino
Mauricio Pochettino first met Marcelo Bielsa when he was 14 years old at 1 a.m. The young boy was fast asleep in his house just outside Rosario, Argentina, when the then Newell’s Old Boys manager and a scouting assistant entered the boy’s room and startled him awake, according to The Guardian. Pulling back the covers, Bielsa inspected Pochettino’s physique. He turned to his partner and muttered five quick words: “He looks like a footballer.” Pochettino would sign for Newell’s youth team not long after the visit—the first step in a long journey in El Loco’s world.
Fast-forward 28 years to Tottenham’s victory over Arsenal in the North London Derby and success in the League Cup, and Bielsa’ influence on Pochettino is unmistakable. The now-42-year-old manager’s side swarmed the Gunners with unrelenting pressure, a ruthless physical and physiological assault. Every time Arsenal tried to play out of the back, they were met with a wave of white shirts determined not to concede an inch. Pochettino’s team didn’t just control the space — they put a stranglehold on it and didn’t let go, just as Bielsa had once taught the Argentine to do.
The average age of the squad that visited the Emirates in early February was just north of 23 years-old with homegrown talents Harry Kane, Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb at the forefront of the action. Pochettino’s players know that hard work in training is rewarded with time on the pitch. A philosophy such as his, which is a direct, albeit more pragmatic branch of Bielsismo, has no room for egos or favorites. You either submit yourself to the team and to his vision, or you make sure to bring a warm jacket to keep cozy on the bench. It’s why, like Bielsa, Pochettino favors young, impressionable players with something to prove.
Both managers revel in the suffering of their players, imposed through brutal training sessions and fitness requirements. But it works: Harry Kane’s backpedalling, perfectly-placed header to down Arsenal topped off the squad’s tally of 12 points won in the last five minutes of matches this season, twice more than any other team in the Premier League. While other teams gasp for air and attempt to see out the final minutes of matches, Pochettino’s players twist the knife, knowing that they’ll outrun whoever they face. Their opponents know it, too.
Of course, citing Bielsa as an inspiration in the world of football is like claiming The Beatles as inspiration in the world of music. Bielsa’s style of attacking football, with a focus on fast-paced possession and an unyielding press, has become almost universal.
For Pochettino, however, it was Bielsa himself who first taught him the best online casino fundamentals of management. Before his senior career had even taken off at Newell’s, Bielsa would instruct the young Pochettino to draw up a dossier of information containing their next opponent’s favored style of play, specific tactics, and strengths and weaknesses. As someone who stood out for his competitiveness, work ethic and leadership qualities from an early age, teaching him the nuances of scouting and analysis set Pochettino on the path to a career in management from the time Bielsa got his hands on him.
You won’t hear Pochettino talk much about this, and it may be for good reason. It’s easy—sometimes too easy— to go through a checklist of what makes someone a disciple of the Bielsa doctrine, and Pochettino ticks every box. He’s a former Bielsa player, and his teams dominate possession and press until their lungs give out. But maybe we’re not giving Pochettino enough credit. While it’s clear his own philosophy has taken concepts from Bielsa, the Argentine has never presented himself as a hardcore disciple or idealist in the way of fellow countryman Jorge Sampaoli. Pochettino wants his teams to exhaustively attack, but he is not above instilling a pragmatic, combative style into his teams.
Pochettino has used the words “style” and “philosophy” many times since arriving in London. In almost every press conference, he assesses the team’s adaptation to his methodologies and their style of play. But after his team”s tireless performance against a London rival he simply sat back and smiled.