Mauricio Pochettino has always said, when asked, that he could never manage Barcelona thanks to his past history with RCD Espanyol. Those responses have always seemed to be responded to by those in the media with a nod and a reply of Yes, but if Barca actually came calling, would he REALLY say no?
But ahead of Tottenham Hotspur’s Champions League match against Barcelona this Wednesday, Spurs’ manager has again distanced himself from ever taking the pitch at the Nou Camp as anything except the visiting manager. In a Spanish language interview with MARCA, Pochettino talked about the importance of playing Barcelona in the Champions League with his Tottenham side, his managerial ambitions, and a lot more.
But first, what about that hypothetical Barcelona job?
“Last season it was Real Madrid and now it’s Barcelona. It is the essence of the Champions League to play these types of matches against the best teams in the world. They are the best that can be given. They are exciting and motivate me a lot.
“Of course [it’s motivating playing Barcelona]. It motivates me from being a Periquito [Espanyol loyalist] and living so many years in Barcelona. Going back to the city is always something nice and playing against Barca, too. It is always motivating.
“[My position on managing Barca] is something that is more than understood. I have a lot of friends in Barcelona, who are from the Barca team and to whom I have enormous respect, but my way and that of Barcelona are going on different paths, in opposite directions and that would be impossible.”
Pochettino has devoted a significant portion of his playing and coaching career to Espanyol, and it’s a club that he loves very much. He played over 250 games for the club, and managed them from 2009-2012. Pochettino is a loyalist — the idea of managing Barcelona, one of Espanyol’s main rivals, is simply a bridge too far.
The idea of “different paths” becomes clearer as the interview goes on. Pochettino is trying to build something, to do something with Tottenham that hasn’t been done since the 1960s — take Spurs to the Premier League title. At Barcelona, the situation is different. While still an incredible team, Barca is at a transition point. Barcelona, says Poch, has a long, established history of a certain kind of technical football, one that was established through the play of a certain type of player, and that may not necessarily mesh with what Poch is bringing to a club like Spurs. It would require a culture change, should he take the reins.
“If we start looking and analyzing players like Xavi or Iniesta it is clear that they point the way forward and the philosophy of the team, and beyond that, players on the bench have benefitted from great technicians such as [Pep] Guardiola, Tito Vilanova or [Frank] Rijkaard. Beyond the spirit of the coach, players like them, who feel football with the need to pass the ball in conditions and hit the grass ... That is something very difficult to change.
“It is clear that now in this last stage there is no more Xavi or Iniesta. There are few footballers of that generation and it is normal that Barcelona has been transformed into a different team. [Enrique] Valverde has tried to change, but keeping the principles, giving nuances to Barcelona’s game, which has been enriched.
“Football is about the players and when you have players as big as Barcelona has had, capable of establishing the philosophy beyond the manager, it is difficult to change. To replace these type of soccer players is impossible.”
That’s not to say that a big club won’t someday come in for Pochettino, should he continue to do good things at Spurs. But it seems pretty clear that Barcelona is not one of the clubs that he would consider, based on his history and the amount it would take to change the culture of the club. There are others out there. PSG is a club that Pochettino also has a favorable history with, but with none of the baggage that comes with playing for or managing a rival. Last summer’s links to Real Madrid were rebuffed, but there’s always going to be that doubt in Spurs supporters’ minds that wonders what might happen if Florentino Perez ever really got serious.
But those are concerns for another day. Pochettino appears to be happy at Spurs and isn’t interested in talking about his future, apart from his long term goals and dreams.
And what are his coaching goals? Again, Pochettino says something we’ve heard before, and he speaks as a proud Argentine.
“[I want to] do a great job with Tottenham and be able to win some titles. We are happy to have been able to change the club’s culture and its way of working. At a professional level, and nobody should be able to get angry with me, is to be some day manage Argentina and Newells Old Boys, the team that saw me born. They are two of the dreams I have, along with how to get to Tottenham as high as possible.
“Always win. That is the philosophy.”