- Mauricio Pochettino was a neutral observer at the 1999 Champions League final
- The Spurs boss admitted he celebrated Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s late winner
- The pair will be standing in opposite dugouts at Wembley on Sunday afternoon
Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino still has vivid recollections of the night he cheered a Manchester United goal by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
It was in Barcelona on May 26, 1999, and Pochettino was an Espanyol defender with a pair of tickets for the Champions League final at the Nou Camp. He was accompanied by team-mate Toni Jimenez, now his Spurs goalkeeping coach.
By the time United had launched their fightback against Bayern Munich, scoring an equaliser by Teddy Sheringham in the 91st minute and the winner from Solskjaer two minutes later, the friends had blagged their way into seats near the presidential box.
‘We sat, like this,’ recalled Pochettino, placing his hands on his knees and staring as though transfixed. ‘It was fantastic. When Sheringham scored we said, “Wow, amazing game — extra time”.
‘Then when Solskjaer scored we were shouting and celebrating. I don’t know why because we were neutral but the atmosphere was amazing.’
Nearly 20 years on, they meet at Wembley on Sunday; one as Manchester United’s interim manager and the other the man United would like to tempt from Tottenham.
‘You can’t be focused on the rumours,’ said Pochettino, who expects United to be motivated and fresh after a training break in Dubai.
‘For him it’s a massive motivation and a challenge to manage Manchester United, like it is for me at Tottenham. We are competitive. We hate to lose.’
Solskjaer has won his first five games, reviving hopes United may yet finish in the top four, but this is his sternest test so far; against Spurs who have won six of their last seven matches in the Premier League.
Spurs have not lost to United at home for nearly seven years — though they were beaten 2-1 at Wembley in an FA Cup semi-final last year. Despite that, they have extinguished Sir Alex Ferguson’s dismissive pre-match motivation: ‘Lads, it’s Tottenham’.
Ferguson, in good health again after brain surgery last May, is active at Old Trafford, and his influence was clear in the appointments of Solskjaer and Mike Phelan, his former assistant.
Also, in the decision to target Pochettino — who once met Ferguson in London before Mourinho landed the United job and has remained in contact with Fergie.
‘I can’t hide my admiration and my relationship,’ said the Argentine. ‘He was an inspiration. I was so lucky to share with him a very nice lunch in London. After that we keep a very good relationship.
‘It’s nothing to hide. We are football people and admire these kind of people like him. Sir Alex is football and to see him involved in his club is fantastic.
‘He was the best manager in the world, in the history of football. To have the possibility to see him every day is like having an encyclopaedia of football.’
With Ferguson at the helm, United made a habit of taking what they wanted from Spurs. Not only points but also in the transfer market, signing Sheringham and Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov.
Daniel Levy stemmed the flow, to the point where Fergie claimed negotiations with the Spurs chairman were ‘more painful than my hip replacement’.
Danny Rose, Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier were all heavily linked with moves to United last summer but stayed in London.
Levy also has his manager tied down with more than four years left on his contract. There is no escape clause, but United fans can hope a seed was sown in Pochettino’s heart in Barcelona.