Pochettino ‘is our secret weapon’
Gareth Southgate has hailed Mauricio Pochettino as a surprise secret weapon in England’s World Cup plans by revealing the Tottenham Hotspur manager’s unseen role in Harry Kane’s remarkable rise.
Southgate claims Kane’s emergence as a world-class goalscorer for club and country in the last three seasons has been largely due to his improved conditioning, and the England manager says Pochettino and his assistant Jesus Perez have form for sending players on international duty in superb shape.
Southgate first managed Kane with England Under-21s but often left the forward on the substitutes’ bench.
That now seems unthinkable with the senior side, with the 24-year-old having netted 10 goals in his 21 full caps during three prolific seasons in the Premier League.
“He’s not massively different to how he was but at that time Saido Berahino was outstanding for us,” said Southgate. “He was in West Brom’s team and playing Premier League football and he scored goals immediately.
“Harry missed a couple of camps with injury but you could see from the start in training he was deadly. The quality of finishing took me back to watching Alan Shearer, Robbie Fowler and Paul Scholes. It was ‘OK, can he transfer that into the matches?’
“The biggest change has been physical. Since Mauricio has been there the conditioning work they do has improved the team and Harry has benefited from that.
“He looks strong, lean, a little bit quicker and sharper. The biggest change has been physical, and then that has an effect on your mentality.
“If you know you’re in good physical condition then mentally you’re in a better place.”
Southgate acknowledged that Pochettino’s influence has been felt by other Tottenham and England players, Sir Bobby Charlton will attend training at St George’s Park tomorrow as the FA rename the main pitch at the national football centre in his honour. The FA will name the Sir Bobby Charlton Pitch to mark Sir Bobby’s 80th birthday on Oct 11.
The Manchester United hero and his wife, Norma, will attend the naming ceremony and be introduced to Gareth Southgate’s squad.
Sir Bobby, who is England’s second highest goalscorer with 49 goals in 106 games, will also attend the World Cup qualifier against Slovenia at Wembley on Thursday. including Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose, but he insisted he was not surprised by the change, having worked with Southampton players when the Argentine was in charge at St Mary’s.
“It was the same at Southampton,” said Southgate. “I know Jesus, Mauricio’s assistant, is in charge of that area of their training, and we noticed a definite difference that allowed them to play the pressing game they want to play.
“There was a definite impact on all the Spurs players from their club training.”
With England poised to secure qualification for the World Cup in Russia this week, Southgate’s mind is turning to preparations for the finals and ensuring his players arrive in peak condition. Previous England teams have often appeared jaded in major tourna- ments, but Southgate has played down concerns about physical burnout.
He plans to issue members of his World Cup squad with individual conditioning programmes at the end of the club season, while Fifa have implemented a mandatory rest period from May 21-27, during which no club or in- ternational games will be sanctioned other than the Champions League final.
“I played in tournaments, I played seasons that involved 45 or 50 games, and I’m not a huge believer in burnout,” said Southgate.
“I think there’s mental fatigue, but physically it’s about getting the right level of training, the appropriate stimulus to make sure people are ready.
“We should have enough expertise to get that to the best possible level. That requires all the players to be looking after themselves right.
“Somebody like Harry will do that. He will do whatever it takes to give himself the best chance, he’s meticulous about his diet, meticulous about the way he recovers from games.
“There needs to be some mental switch-off at the end of the season but the danger there is that you tail off too much and then can’t get back.
“Physical work is tailored now anyway because, positionally, the requirements of your full-backs are totally different to your centre-backs, for example. We’ve got to be on top of all that.
“The lads always have a conditioning programme from their clubs so there will always be something to keep them fit, otherwise you can tail off.
“You have to keep a certain level right through.
“In my experience with the Under21s and seniors, you get to that point where everyone is in a slightly different place.
“Some have played 20 games and are quite fresh and some have played 55 and need handling differently. We have to plot that individually.”
Quick learner: Harry Kane has benefited from Mauricio Pochettino’s techniques