What happens when a Head Coach coaches
I’ve done some coaching in my time… Not sports coaching, of course, but coaching in the workplace. The idea is to assist someone in unlocking their potential — to help them achieve a goal, an end point. To help an individual to improve an element of his or her self in some identifiable way.
In years gone by, coaches in football have been in the background. They’ve been the ones quietly doing the work on the training pitch whilst a manager identifies signings, picks the team, signs the player, gives the team talk, and talks to the press.
Things have changed and our players have changed — as a result of our Head Coach (and his team – Miguel D’Agostino, Toni Jiménez, Jesús Pérez).
Mauricio Pochettino has created an enabling culture in which he systematically identifies the aspects of his players which hold them back from fitting his philosophy, and goes about fixing them. That he has so dramatically ‘fixed’ so many players in the space of eighteen months is remarkable, and must be attributed, at least partly, to the positive environment that he has delivered at Hotspur Way.
There is a confidence that pervades — not just a confidence in Pochetinno and his staff, but an individual confidence that is pushing each player to improve, and to believe that they will.
The most encouraging element of this coaching is that not all of the improvements have come in terms of technique, although technical enhancements have been apparent (Rose is an obvious example). He has — as I mentioned — found the most relevant weakness of each player, and worked on it. Kyle Walker had everything required of the modern full-back in terms of athleticism and agility. But he lacked tactical nous and a calm head — Pochettino has delivered. Eric Dier was a promising centre-back, but has had a complete overhaul in position — in doing so, his reading of the game has improved ten-fold. Erik Lamela was talented, hard-working, but rudderless — he now works to rule. And the most staggering of all transformations is that of Mousa Dembélé.
Dembélé was an enigma. His ability was obvious to anyone who had watched him, and it was never a surprise when teammates picked him out as one of the most talented players in the squad. Les Ferdinand and Tim Sherwood touting him (at least by way of cajoling him) to Real Madrid was based purely on his technical ability and touch. His close control and dribbling are almost unparalleled, certainly in English football. And yet he was a failing player.
Pochettino has given him direction, responsibility, and a sense of purpose. He can now adequately cover any one of three positions (central midfield, number ten, right of the front three) and has arguably established himself as the first choice partner to Eric Dier in the pivot. He presses, he wins the ball, he does something with it. He takes the ball under pressure, he dribbles, he swivels to create space, and passes. He even sometimes scores; his 1 in 6 rate this season is far, far better than anything he had previously mustered at Spurs.
In the last few weeks we have seen glimpses of what Pochettino has done to Tom Carroll. Another technically able player, the phrase ‘neat and tidy’ has always been used to describe Carroll, damning him with faint praise. He seemed destined to be the modern-day Vinny Samways (affectionately known as ‘Vinny Sideways’). But Pochettino has delivered again; Carroll is already more aggressive and progressive with his passing and, against Everton (where he admittedly faded in the second half), he came away with some impressive passing figures:
Contrary to popular opinion, Tom Carroll's passing today: 39/49 forward 16/16 backward 17/17 square. 4 chances created (3 from open play).
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) January 3, 2016
He is still a work in progress, but I don’t doubt that Pochettino will to do with him what he has done with so many others. Ben Davies is moving in the right direction, Kieran Trippier has shown signs too. Alex Pritchard, on his return from injury, may be the next to be given the Pochettino treatment.
For someone like me who has always wanted to see the club promote from within and develop what we already have at the club, these are exciting times.