Pochettino imbibes wisdom from Fergie

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger (right) and Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino before their teams met on March 5
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger (right) and Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino before their teams met on March 5. PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

Intent on finishing ahead of Gunners, Spurs boss says meal with Ferguson an 'inspiration'

LONDON • As Mauricio Pochettino seeks to knock Arsenal off their perch, his choice of lunch companion on Tuesday was appropriate and enlightening. Sir Alex Ferguson rated the manner in which he wrested supremacy from Liverpool as one of his finest achievements at Manchester United. For Pochettino, their meal together at Scott's in Mayfair was not only a "dream come true" but an "inspiration".

One of the principal storylines of the final day of the Premier League season concerns whether Pochettino and Tottenham can finish above Arsenal, in second place. They need a point at relegated Newcastle to make sure and it will probably be required as Arsenal have to be favourites to beat the similarly Championship-bound Aston Villa at home.

If Tottenham can close out the Gunners it would be the first time since 1994-95 - and the pre-Arsene Wenger era - that they have come in ahead of Arsenal but if they were to falter in that quest they would face derision from the red half of north London.

It is a big deal to the club's fans to finish above Arsenal and Pochettino accepted that it would provide an emotional lift.

"I recognise it would be a fantastic thing," he said. "For our supporters, for us and for the players."

LEARNING FROM THE MASTER

I learnt many things.

It was two hours and it was very emotional. Every word, every sentence he told us, was a big lesson.

MAURICIO POCHETTINO, explaining why his restaurant meeting with Sir Alex Ferguson had such a huge effect on him.

But Pochettino has broader goals and he made it clear that they take in much more than neighbourhood supremacy. If that is a product of being on top, then all well and good. But the priority was simply to be on top.

"If it's impossible to be first we need to try to be second," Pochettino said. "I don't care which is the club that fights with us. The supporters and their feelings are very important but we are professional and to move on, we sometimes need to put the emotions out.

" I want to be second not because we'll be above our enemy but because we are ambitious. Our objectives for the next few seasons are to fight for the title."

There was a time when Ferguson v Wenger was the pre-eminent rivalry in English football and it might have been a topical subject for Pochettino at Scott's. We will never know, because the Tottenham manager, unsurprisingly, refused to reveal any of the juicy details.

What shone through, however, was how Pochettino also enjoyed the contents of the £114 (S$224) bottle of Brunello di Montalcino (2011). He said, with a smile, that he had only one glass and it was his assistant, Jesus Perez, who drank the rest.

"Myself and Sir Alex spoke, and Jesus drank," Pochettino laughed.

"I learnt many things. It was two hours and it was very emotional. Every word, every sentence he told us, was a big lesson.

"Of course, it can help me to become a better manager. You can read books but there he was in front of us, with his charisma and personality. You understand why he is Sir Alex Ferguson.

"It was fantastic to meet him. When I started my career as a manager, he was always my inspiration, my reference, and when you can share two hours with a person who, for me, was the greatest manager in the world and the history of football, you can only enjoy it."

Importantly, Pochettino's new contract at Spurs features a change in his title from head coach to manager which, he said, better reflects the scope of his work. He talked about the need to improve the squad for next season, when Champions League football will present a new challenge.

"We need to improve our mental state next season," Pochettino said.

"Always, we have been better than our opponents but it's not always about playing well. You need to manage the mental side. We need to cross this line."

First of all, Pochettino and Tottenham need to cross it ahead of Arsenal.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 15, 2016, with the headline 'Pochettino imbibes wisdom from Fergie'. Print Edition | Subscribe