A month into state-enforced lockdown across the United Kingdom, being able to go to the football already feels like such a distant memory.
But, if you cast your mind back, one of the best times to be a Saints fan in recent memory was watching Southampton’s surge up the Football League and battle to survive their first season back in the Premier League.
One man who was an ever-present figure on the pitch and in the changing rooms was Richard Chaplow.
Oh When The Saints, a new Southampton podcast which has already scored interviews with the likes of Jos Hooiveld and Dexter Blackstock, managed to get a fantastic interview with “Chappers.”
Thankfully, the Lancashire lad was more than willing to share his insights on a Saints team which really captured the imagination of Southampton fans across the land.
One of the subjects which popped up was the transition between managers during that first season back in the Premier League.
Nigel Adkins, who took Saints from League One up to the Premier League in just two seasons, was dismissed in favour of the then-relatively unknown Argentine Mauricio Pochettino. Saints fans were upset, football pundits were baffled.
Chaplow, however, thought it was a justified decision at the time and has since proven to be the right one.
“The change had to be made due to the direction we were heading,” Chaplow told OWTS podcast host Patrick Surlis. “I think it was literally a toss-up whether or not we’d go down if Nige stayed.
“It was a case of the change had to be made or we’ll be going down. The powers that be make those tough decisions and it proved to be a good one.”
With Adkins gone and Pochettino in, Chaplow said that while he holds a deep respect for the former for what he achieved, he and his fellow Southampton players quickly noticed how good Pochettino was as a manager.
“It was immediate. It’s difficult because we all have our ceiling levels as people. I can maximise my abilities to the absolute most, but am I ever going to be a regular in the Premier League? Probably not. I accept that.
“I think the same goes for coaching. For me, you have a level you can operate at and you can better, touch that ceiling, but ultimately we all have potential levels we can get. I think Mauricio’s is obviously higher than the majority of other coaches out there.
“I don’t think that’s a slight on Nige - what he achieved in those two-and-a-half years was absolutely phenomenal, but I don’t think he could achieve what Mauricio achieved. That’s probably now proven from what we have seen from the past five years.”
From the outside looking in as a Saints fan, Pochettino quickly instilled his desired style of play from the players he inherited from Adkins.
One other major factor was player fitness. It looked like Southampton players were willing to run through brick walls for Pochettino and they had the stamina to do it for days.
After Tottenham binned Pochettino in favour of Jose Mourinho last November, the former has received a few digs about working his players too hard in training. That has been used as an excuse for sub-par, lackadaisical performances on the pitch.
However, Chaplow said Southampton players absolutely relished their time under the former Paris Saint-Germain and Espanyol defender.
“His attention to detail, his way of playing, his philosophy. He just took it to the next level, something I only ever experienced once and that was under him. I am sure that many, many players will have only experienced that under him because not many coaches in the world could produce what he could do. There’s probably a handful of world-class coaches who could provide what he can.
“He has his technical staff with him, who he takes everywhere, and every single one of them have their own roles and responsibilities. He is absolutely masterful at bringing that out and delivering it day-in, day-out, just as he is a master of doing what he does. He just had a well-oiled team and he made us a well-oiled team.”
As mentioned before, Pochettino is renowned for how hard he gets his players training. While it has been used as a stick to beat him with for any perceived failures as a manager, it has also been the reason why he has achieved such relative success at both Southampton and Tottenham.
Chaplow and his Saints teammates appear to have loved working under Pochettino in the Premier League. However, some players did find it hard to adjust to this new-found intensity in training. Namely, Southampton favourite Rickie Lambert.
“I think he doubted we could do what he was asking us to do, but it was extremely demanding physicially. None of us had been pushed like that before. Ultimately, he wanted us to be one of the hardest-working teams. Pressing, he wanted us to be absolute animals on the field. He showed us why he wanted us to be like that, because he felt we could get results. Then he showed us how we were going to do it, but none of us had ever been through that “how” before, that process. That process was brand new for us.
“Training was mental. I am a fit lad and it was unbelievably hard. I don’t know how Lambo felt! There was a few of us looking at each other across the changing room thinking ‘this guy has lost the plot’. First week, he’s come in, he’s running us and working us like that halfway through the season. The intensity was through the roof and that was driven through him and his staff every single day.”
Though Lambert may have particularly struggled in training to begin with, it seems the Saints players all bought into Pochettino’s vision.
That showed on the pitch as results and performances improved with consistency. By the end of the 2012/13 Premier League campaign, Southampton’s first back in the top tier of English football since 2005, Pochettino led Saints to a comfortably 14th-place finish in the league table and well clear of relegation.
Chaplow believes it was Pochettino’s work at Southampton which enabled the club to push on and finish as high as sixth in the Premier League despite him leaving the club for Tottenham in 2014.
“He added everything. We already had a great team spirit, he made it better. We already had a good intensity about us, he made it better. We had a great style of play, he made it better. All those little margins.
“He ultimately kept Southampton not only in the Premier League, but made them a team consistently in the Premier League. There were ups and downs to our positions in the league, but he ultimately gave Southampton the foundation to achieve what they achieved in the Premier League.”
You can listen to the Oh When The Saints podcast’s interview with Richard Chaplow on your preferred podcast app here.
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