Mauricio Pochettino has always been a big believer in nurturing talent from the same country as the club at which he is the manager.
From his time at Espanyol in Spain through both his jobs in England with Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur, the Argentine has always espoused the development of home grown players to compliment the stars brought in from elsewhere.
At Tottenham he’s turned several English players into stars in their own right. Harry Kane is the obvious example and is the closest England have to a world class player going into this summer’s World Cup.
“From day one, when we arrived at Southampton, we always said to you [the media], the fans and the coaches that the most important thing was to show belief and faith in the young talent in England,” commented Pochettino in April 2017.
“One of our challenges in the last four years was to show the English people that the talent exists here. I think Southampton and Tottenham are showing that, if you believe and work and spend time, they have the same talent as in Argentina, Spain and Brazil.”
Aside from reserve right-back Kyle Walker-Peters, all of the English players in the current Spurs squad have been given England caps at some point, and four of them made Gareth Southgate’s most recent squad.
One area the club have lacked an English presence, however, is at centre back, but that may be about to change as the Spurs transfer rumours have linked them with Swansea’s Alfie Mawson, who was named in the England squad for the first time for the friendlies against Holland and Italy. Although he didn’t appear, his being in the squad is a marker of his progress.
This week’s reports claim Tottenham are targeting Mawson this summer, along with Southampton full-back Ryan Bertrand.
Though the 24-year-old currently plays in a team which are battling it out near the bottom of the table rather than the top, and are therefore slightly different in style, it is still interesting to compare his statistics with Spurs’ existing rearguard.
One would think that his numbers may be skewed as he has much more defending to do, and much less space and opportunity to play out from the back, but some of the numbers suggest he would be a good fit.
Of all the defenders from the lower regions of the table who were in with a shout of being called up for these experimental England squads, Mawson was the most accurate passer with an 82 per cent success rate.
He also has the ability to play on the left side of the defence, which is something Spurs would need when Jan Vertonghen is unable to play or needs a rest. On top of this, he’s also used to playing in a back three, which is a formation Pochettino likes to use on certain occasions.
Despite playing for a team who have to do more defending than Spurs, in terms of ground duels he is at the bottom of the pile. He completes less than one tackle per 90 minutes, while Vertonghen (1.9), Davinson Sánchez (1.5), and Toby Alderweireld (1.6) all complete more.
He wins 65 per cent of his aerial duels from an average of 5.1 challenges per 90 minutes. This is on par with Vertonghen who has almost identical numbers, winning 65 per cent of the 5.2 aerial duels he contests per 90. Sánchez is similar in terms of amount, but wins just 55 per cent, while Alderweireld is less involved in this area winning 40 per cent of his average of 3.3 duels.
Mawson makes fewer interceptions per game than the Spurs bunch with less than one per 90’, but this will be because Pochettino’s side play a higher line, giving them more opportunities to step into midfield and win the ball early in opposition attacking moves.
This also means they are more prone to being dribbled past, and the Swansea man leads the way in this department and in the last line of the defence he is rarely passed by his opponents.
When comparing Vertonghen and Mawson together using expected goals data, the Englishman is more regularly as an attacking threat at set pieces, but the Belgian is a lot more involved in the buildup play.
This would be something Mawson would have to adapt to, and it will be interesting to see how he manages in this area of the game for England.
The Spurs boss may be highly regarded in managerial circles and may be doing his bit to help homegrown talent, but there is always the caveat that he’s yet to win a trophy during his time at Tottenham, despite the obvious improvements he’s made to the North London club.
Like his compatriot Lionel Messi, who will also be looking to win a trophy this summer to help support the superlatives thrown at him, Pochettino will want to win the FA Cup and finally put a managerial honour on his CV.
But Mawson is one of the obstacles standing between them and a semi-final at their temporary Wembley home. It could be an audition for the London-born defender, but the Spurs manager may also be hoping that he has a rare off day.