Mauricio Pochettino became the first managerial casualty of the season on Monday when Espanyol and the Argentinean coach agreed to cancel his contract at Cornellà-El Prat. The former defender, who made almost 300 appearances for the club, took over the coach’s job in January 2009 and instantly inked his name into the fans’ good books with an unlikely 2-1 win against arch-rival Barcelona at Camp Nou, with Espanyol then in the relegation zone.
Pochettino eventually secured a comfortable 10th-place finish and since then he has led the club to 11th, eighth, and 14th in the top division on a shoestring budget and under the shadow of the Barcelona behemoth next door. However, even a man with the links to a club that Pochettino has with Espanyol can only buy so much time when results fail to materialize — although the Argentinean may rightfully reserve a particular grudge against referee Carlos Del Cerro Grande, who awarded a non-existent penalty to Valencia in the 89th minute of Pochettino’s penultimate match, which sent the periquitos to the foot of the table. “The club should make an official complaint,” said Pochettino after the incident, in which two of his starting 11 were sent off for dissent.
Espanyol president Joan Collet was apparently in Madrid on Tuesday to dine with Professional Football League president Ángel María Villar in order to do just that, but it is too late for Pochettino. “I have been in the world of soccer for many years and understand that a coach has a sell-by date,” Pochettino said at his final press conference. “When you have bad results it is normal that the coach goes. We have taken a responsible decision thinking that the change is positive. I have waived the final year of my contract. I will always be available for the club if needed in the future.”
Espanyol vice-captain Joan Verdú summed up the lot of the modern manager on Tuesday: “Much of the blame for what is happening, if not all of it, is on the players for not achieving our objectives.”
“I don’t consider it a sacking, we have talked it over in trust. It was a mutual decision because we thought it best for the fans. It’s not easy to part with a club legend like Mauricio because he has given four years of sporting stability. Despite the disappointment of recent results we have enjoyed putting Espanyol up where it should be. The door is always open to Mauricio, who will be difficult to replace.”
Some of the usual suspects are being linked with the job, with former Atlético and Mexico manager Javier Aguirre, who has been out of a job since leaving Zaragoza in 2011, the favorite to take over. Ex-Sevilla boss Marcelino, who was sacked in February, is also waiting by his telephone.
In the meantime youth team coach Raúl Longhi will take charge of the senior side for its King’s Cup match against Sevilla on Wednesday. Espanyol is 3-1 down from the first leg but at least enjoys home field advantage for the return.