Sitting two points behind Leicester City at the top of the table, Mauricio Pochettino can reflect on what has been an outstanding season thus far, especially with the implementation and consolidation of young stars such as Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Eric Dier.
Pochettino is now showing sure signs of the job he did at Southampton, where the likes of Adam Lallana, James Ward-Prowse and Calum Chambers have developed their game in recent years. Crucial to that success, was the job he did at Espanyol, a club where the Argentine had two playing spells and really strengthened his coaching credentials.
Although, it is important to state that his job at the Catalan side was far from perfect. It was more of a learning curve, although along the way, he helped develop some outstanding European players.
Pochettino inherited the side during the 2008/09 campaign after unsuccessful spells of management from Bartolome Marquez Lopez and Jose Manuel Esnal Pardo, which saw the Catalan side third from bottom and facing a real threat of relegation.
Fortunately, Pochettino, when he asked for divine intervention, added a saintly touch to the side, although not initially. His first match was against Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, and Pochettino drew in the Copa Del Rey in that opening battle. But, Espanyol would win only one match out of their opening eight in the league.
Curiously, though, that win was against future treble winners Barcelona, at the Camp Nou, where two goals from Ivan De La Pena were enough to win the match, amid a later goal from Yaya Toure. Espanyol won eight out of their last ten Liga matches and would end the season in a respectable tenth place.
The following season was to be a solid, if unspectacular season, where Espanyol would finish in 11th place. It was also the season after ex-Liverpool player Steven Finnan would leave the club after failing to make any mark in the Spanish game. This season, Pochettino’s side would be consistently solid, but nothing more.
The likes of Carles Kameni, Jose Callejon and Juan Verdu were all performing well and starting to be a key part of the team, in the season before one of the most successful (and where Pochettino demonstrated his managerial ability) seasons in recent times for Espanyol.
Indeed, Espanyol would finish in an outstanding eighth position. The Argentine had transformed them from relegation candidates to aspiring European football in just over two and a half seasons. It was not just the results they were producing however, but the style of football was also progressing. A key feature of this team was the acquisition of Pablo Osvaldo, a name well-known to Southampton fans.
The Argentina striker settled in superbly into Spanish football, scoring thirteen goals in his maiden season. This was alongside an ever increasing and improving Jose Callejon, whom Real Madrid would sign the season after, and Juan Verdu neatly pulling the strings. The season could have been even better, however.
The Catalan side were positioned in fourth or fifth position for much of the period between November and March, and never went below sixth during that time. Still, Espanyol fans would have taken finishing eight at the start of the campaign.
However, the success that Pochettino started never lasted, and the season of 2010/11 would be one of disappointment. By this point, Pablo Osvaldo had completed his move to Italian giants Roma and a young Alvaro Vasquez was never going to step up and fill his shoes. Jose Callejon, as aforementioned, would move to Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid, although new stars emerged.
Pochettino loaned in Inter Milan starlet Phillpe Coutinho, signed promising winger Vladimir Weiss alongside Walter Pandiani and Uche with Hector Moreno at the heart of the defence. Sergio Garcia was signed and would in future seasons be of extreme importance. Espanyol would however, finish in 14th place, and with it came a return to mid-table obscurity.
If that was a bad season, then 2012/13, Pochettino’s final period in Spain, would be a disaster. The current Tottenham boss lasted only thirteen league matches and would be rock bottom when he was sacked in October. Javier Aguirre takeover and would lead Espanyol to fourteenth place with Pochettino, in March, taking over the reigns at Southampton. The rest is history.