MAURICIO POCHETTINO rolled out a wonderful anecdote about sneaking into the posh seats at the Nou Camp to cheer Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s injury-time winner in the 1999 Champions League final.
Then he spoke of his intense admiration for Sir Alex Ferguson — an “inspiration” and “footballing encyclopedia” — and referred to Paul Pogba as a “special” player.
If you were a cynic, you’d believe Tottenham’s manager was fluttering his eyelashes at Manchester United.
Pochettino is United’s clear No 1 target to replace Jose Mourinho as their permanent manager this summer, even if Daniel Levy is determined not to let him go — even for £50million.
Yet caretaker boss Solskjaer takes United to Wembley tomorrow after five straight wins — knowing a sixth against Spurs would massively enhance his own hopes of landing the job full-time.
The situation is intriguing and while Spurs chairman Levy instructed his man on the ground to ensure no questions about United’s interest in Poch would be answered, the Argentine was in sparkling form yesterday.
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Not least when he revealed how, as Espanyol players, he and Spurs goalkeeping coach Toni Jimenez had watched Solskjaer’s finest hour as United scored twice in injury time to overcome Bayern Munich.
Pochettino said: “I was there when he scored. I was there with Toni watching a fantastic game and how I shouted for a Manchester United goal was incredible.
“On Sunday we meet at Wembley but 20 years ago I was shouting for a goal he scored. I don’t know how we got tickets. I remember that where we were had a very bad view and we started to walk around the stand.
“We arrived at the VIP area — the President’s box. We found two seats there and sat. It was fantastic.
“In the last minute when Teddy Sheringham scored, when Peter Schmeichel went up to the penalty box. One-one. And we said, ‘Wow, amazing game, now extra time’.
“And then, when Solskjaer scored, we were shouting, celebrating, I don’t know why because we were neutral.
“But the atmosphere was amazing. And now it is a coincidence that we’re meeting.”
Regarding being linked to the Manchester United job on a daily basis, Poch added: “You cannot be focused on rumours, only to do our jobs in the best way.
“For him, it’s a massive motivation and challenge to manage Manchester United — like it is for me to manage Tottenham. We love to win and hate to lose. Always when Tottenham play United it’s exciting and very competitive.”
Solskjaer has invited Sir Alex to address United’s players at their training ground — and Pochettino regards that as a major boost after the great Scot’s brain haemorrhage last May.
Pochettino had lunch with Sir Alex before United appointed Mourinho in 2016, with many believing the Argentine had been sounded out about the Old Trafford job.
This time, there is no doubt Pochettino is United’s chosen one.
Daniel Levy will not let Mauricio Pochettino join Man Utd — even for £50m
EXCLUSIVE By Neil Ashton and Dave Kidd
DANIEL LEVY will not let Mauricio Pochettino join Manchester United — even for £50million.
The Tottenham chairman has made it clear to his board he plans to reject any Old Trafford approach at the end of the season.
And that is even if they offer more than the value of Poch’s contract.
Levy has told friends he regards the club’s Argentinian boss so highly he cannot risk losing him.
United visit Spurs at Wembley tomorrow on the back of five straight wins, with interim boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer keen to succeed Jose Mourinho on a permanent basis.
But Pochettino remains United’s No 1 choice — and while the Spurs chief claimed yesterday he is the only man in football who enjoys negotiating with tough cookie Levy, he will NOT be able to talk his way to Old Trafford.
Despite being muzzled by his current employers over the United job, Pochettino is revelling in the extra attention.
At Tottenham’s training ground yesterday he was rocking back, feet on the table, full of storytelling and bonhomie, even showing reporters photos of his pet dog — a Rhodesian ridgeback called Sansa.
He likened Christian Eriksen to his beloved pooch and joked about his mentor Marcelo Bielsa being caught in a spying storm.
When asked about Sir Alex’s renewed influence at United, Poch said: “It’s fantastic news because he IS football. Sir Alex means football and to be involved in his football club is fantastic news after he suffered a massive health problem.
“For him and for Manchester, it’s a massive, important thing. I cannot hide my admiration and relationship with him. He is one of the people I admired the most. An inspiration.
“I was so lucky with assistant Jesus Perez to share with him a very nice lunch in London. After that we kept a very good relationship and, of course, it’s nothing to hide as we are football people and I admire people like him.
“For all United fans, the players and staff, to have such a person involved every day there is a massive impact.
“And he was the best manager in the world, in the history of football.
“It’s like having the big book of Larousse (an encyclopedia). It was a treasure for me when my dad and my mum gave a present to me at Christmas of Larousse — it was a book where you can find everything.
“And he is like an encyclopedia of football.”
Roy Keane revealed Sir Alex had once regarded Tottenham as such a soft touch that he gave his United players the world’s shortest team talk — “lads, it’s Spurs” — then left the dressing room.
Pochettino has heard the story but knows his club’s reputation has since been transformed by he and chairman Levy.
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He said: “Tottenham today is very competitive. We are the target of many, many clubs.
“It’s because we are not like we were. When opponents show the respect they are showing us, it’s because we’re doing something right.
“We’ve beaten United the last three times we played in the Premier League at home… twice at White Hart Lane and once at Wembley.”
This post written by Joshua Jones originally appeared on Football news - transfers, fixtures, scores, pictures | The Sun. Read the full post here.