Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino reflects on his history with Man City boss Pep Guardiola
Mauricio Pochettino can vividly remember the first time he instructed his players to employ a gutsy pressing game against a Pep Guardiola team – it was, in fact, his first training session as a manager.
The Argentinean took charge of Espanyol in January 2009 and immediately found himself pitted against Guardiola’s Barcelona in a Copa Del Rey tie.
“It was a big impact because my first training session was on the Tuesday and then we played on the Wednesday,” said Pochettino. “We trained in the afternoon and then in the morning to prepare for the game - two training sessions in less than 12 hours.
“The players looked at me in the eyes like this [with surprise] and I said to them ‘we need to play high pressing and one v one at the back’. They thought it was impossible against Barcelona, but I said ‘no, it is not impossible. We need to play like this and we need to be ready’.
“It was easy to convince them. It was good because 0-0 against Barcelona was a fantastic result and it was then easy to convince the players to play in a different way. Barcelona had Messi, Puyol, Abidal, Marquez. I don’t remember exactly who.
“Where did my pressing style come from? It’s about your personality, how you are. It’s your lifestyle and you show on the pitch how you are. If you’re brave in your life, you cannot behave in a different way on the pitch.
“It’s about how you feel, how you are, your character. I don’t understand how to play in a different way. Always be brave, I like to be brave.”
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Espanyol lost the second leg of the cup tie 3-2 but, just three weeks later, they returned to the Nou Camp for a league fixture and triumphed 2-1.
It was the first victory of Pochettino’s managerial career and an important one at that. For one thing, it was a derby between two rival clubs in Barcelona - and it was also a big moment for a side that sat third from bottom, five points adrift of safety, when Pochettino took over but ended up 10th.
“I never thought I would fail, I always thought I would succeed,” said Pochettino. “In this moment, it was a little bit subconscious - I was too much brave.
“It was always special to beat Barcelona because we were on the other side of the town. The derby was special in Barcelona.
“Barcelona looks bigger than Espanyol but, in the end, Espanyol was the real Catalans - the foundation and basis of the club. Espanyol was real Catalan people and Barcelona was founded in another way.
“The problem is the supporters of Espanyol always look at Barcelona as not only a club, because they use the politics to sell, and you can see Catalonia, it is not Spain. We fight and we have different values.
“The Espanyol supporters are different to the Barcelona supporters. For me, Espanyol supporters are better because I am Espanyol supporter - I am ‘Periquito’. That creates a bit of a problem between us.
“Always it was special to beat Barcelona because it is my sporting enemy. I am from Argentina but I spent half my life in Barcelona and my two sons were born in Barcelona.”
In a way, Guardiola’s move into management mirrored Pochettino’s, on the other side of town. He too played for his club for many years before eventually taking charge. However, Guardiola took over a side in 2008 that had just finished third in La Liga, while Pochettino inherited an Espanyol outfit that was fighting relegation.
“I was a player at Espanyol and I had the possibility to work [as the manager] at a difficult moment, a difficult period for Espanyol,” said Pochettino. “I am happy how my career has gone.
“It’s hard to compare with another manager, how I or they arrive to a certain point. We all have different possibilities but when you get your chance, you have to show yourself, that you have the value.
“Guardiola had the possibility to manage Barcelona with Messi, but he showed that he was capable of doing that and increasing the level of the team.
“A lot of managers have had the possibility to manage teams, to be a great manager, and then if you don’t have the quality to get success it’s always difficult. The most important thing is that, if you have the possibility, you take it.”
In January 2013 Pochettino left Espanyol to take charge of Southampton. In that same week, Bayern Munich announced that Guardiola would take charge at the end of the season.
Now they are at Tottenham and Manchester City respectively, preparing to go head to go head in Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash at White Hart Lane.
Pochettino believes they have both helped to usher in a new epoch – a fresh style of management – although there is a hint that he feels Guardiola has had more credit than others.
“He is the face of the change, when you mix the romantic football with the new technology,” said the Spurs boss. “In this moment a new [type of] manager appears, and Guardiola is a little bit ahead because of the results.
“The new manager starts to work with the technology and this romantic vision of football. That I think is the start of the new era in football.
“Guardiola is the face but not only Guardiola. I was involved. Different managers like Luis Enrique or [Diego] Simeone, we are the same age in the same level.
“Guardiola was the face because results always put you in the top. I think always you can see better when you have in your team [people like] Ronaldinho and Messi.”
Pochettino and Guardiola may not be working in the same city these days, but the gap between them looks smaller than in previous years – they have similar ambitions now, domestically and in the Champions League, and just four points separate their sides in the top-flight table.
If Tottenham’s manager has his way, and his pressing game proves successful again against Guardiola, then there will be even less of a difference come Sunday night.
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs