Guillem Balague on Saints' new boss
Following the appointment of Mauricio Pellegrino at Southampton, we spoke to journalist Guillem Balague about Saints' new boss...
What do you make of the appointment of Mauricio Pellegrino?
It’s an intelligent appointment. I have been surprised for many years now that clubs didn’t have the thorough, forward-thinking process that Southampton has for managers, and that they haven’t identified people like Pellegrino or Unai Emery, or Pochettino much earlier. But I think Southampton have got it worked out. They know where to find managers that fit a philosophy in a very kind of European way and that is a better way to run a club. You’ve got an idea, you look for somebody that suits that idea and there’s no doubt that Pellegrino suits it.
guillem balagueflexibility is one of his assets – tactically and in the way of relating to players.
on mauricio pellegrino
What are his main qualities as a manager and a coach?
He is from a generation of coaches that have taken from others he’s experienced time with, like Rafa Benítez, or has heard of, like [Marcelo] Bielsa, but he picks the best of everyone. So flexibility is one of his assets – tactically and in the way of relating to players. Managing the squad is another one. The fact that Alavés had 18 new players and everybody seemed happy at the end of the season, everybody felt involved, says a lot.
Even though he’s young, he’s got experience of good and bad. If you learn from it and you don’t despair when things go wrong then that’s something to add to your luggage, and he’s got that. He’s got experience in different countries and just generally, again, he’s the kind of generation of coaches who don’t think they are bigger than the club. It’s not all about him and his philosophy – it’s about adapting to what is put in front of him, and he’s very happy about that.
What is his style of play and philosophy of football like?
It's adapting to players and adapting to circumstances. He’s the kind of guy that will tell you if you have two very fast wingers then you have to play that way, or if it’s two tall strikers then we’ll play that way. We’ve seen at Alavés a usage of full-backs very offensively, but the centre backs in certain games were very defensive. He’s used three or four at the back, he’s used two strikers sometimes, so he’s adapted to what he has. It’s about maximising the potential of his squad. If you want to describe a philosophy of him it’s just that – adapting to the needs of his team and to the players he has.
What is his character like?
He speaks very good English. In Spanish he’s a guy who will talk for hours about football, is very thorough about details. He becomes a little bit quieter in English I think, but he’s somebody who has got a great synergy with players, and who can be funny. At first he can come across a bit tough, but once you break into that he’s a very caring guy. He’s just absolutely in love with the game.
How big an achievement was his success with Alavés last season?
For him, it was important to make an impact, because Alavés was a little bit of a platform for him, but the job was very difficult. He needed to stay up, with a club that is well run, but who had 18 new players. The intention was not to go down, and very soon you realised that the selection of players had been very good, like [Marcos] Llorente and Theo [Hernandez], Kiko Femenía and Deyverson – a lot of quality players.
But you’ve got a manager putting it all together and making the team very competitive. They were strong defensively, good on the counter and I guess the first moment we all noticed was when they drew at Atletico Madrid (1-1 on the opening day of the season). You think, right, they may have been a little bit lucky, but then they went to the Camp Nou and beat Barcelona. Fighting to be top 12 and getting those results is already successful enough, but then he managed to also get them into the cup final, which is extraordinary.
How excited are you about seeing him in the Premier League and how good a fit do you feel he is for Southampton?
It reminds me a little bit of the feelings that were around when Pochettino arrived. I remember talking about that and getting hammered even by English coaches saying 'How can you celebrate the arrival of a guy who struggled in Spain?' But it was like ‘No, you’re talking about a guy that actually is special. Give him the chance.’ With Pellegrino I would say the same. He’s an intelligent coach and is someone I can see making an impact in the Premier League.
He made Southampton a priority because the style of the club and he felt it really suited what he could do with it. He’s spoken to Pochettino, who told him marvellous things about Southampton, so I’m pretty sure he cannot wait. It’s exciting to see that sort of coach in the Premier League as well – it adds to the Premier League, no doubt.