Managing Chelsea looks enough to leave anyone in a muddle these days, but Mauricio Pochettino saw the funny side as he got his Atkinsons in a twist and thought Big Ron was the comedian who played Mr Bean.
He was fielding a question about his first return to Tottenham, tonight, and whether he feared his auto-pilot might kick in, and lead him to the wrong dressing room or the wrong bench, a mistake veteran boss Ron Atkinson made when appointed manager of Nottingham Forest.
‘Ah, Mr Bean,’ nodded Pochettino before realising from the reaction of the room that he might be on the wrong track. ‘Ron Atkinson is the actor, yes?’
He dissolved into fits of laughter and mild embarrassment as he discovered he had been thinking of Rowan Atkinson. ‘Ah, OK…’ he smiled. ‘My wife will say, “I told you, you have to remember these names”.’
As for taking the wrong turn in north London, Pochettino is less concerned. ‘I know the layout very well because I designed where it all was. The home dressing room and the away. Home on the right and away on the left, I know that very well.’
Mauricio Pochettino spoke to the media about his feelings ahead of Chelsea’s game against Tottenham
Pochettino got Ron Atkinson and famous Mr Bean actor Rowan Atkinson (above) mixed up
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Still, it will be strange to see him emerge from the tunnel at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and turn left in Chelsea blue. He was Spurs boss for five-and-a-half years and not only did he lead them to the Champions League final in 2019, he also led the team from the old White Hart Lane, through months at Wembley and even a match at Milton Keynes, into their stylish new home.
The enormous South Stand used to resonate with a song about him as recently as when difficult times and risk-free football under Antonio Conte had supporters pining for the better days of the Argentinian.
He made no secret of his desire to return to the job one day. ‘Why not?’ he said when asked if that was still how he felt or whether taking the Chelsea job could make it impossible. ‘Hopefully, I can stay here until I die, for 20-25 years but you never know what is going to happen tomorrow. I am 51 and thinking more about enjoying today, not looking too much into the future, but you never know. It’s a club for sure if I’m not working maybe and if they want me one day, why not?’
For now, there is a new hero on the touchline at Tottenham. They serenade Ange Postecoglou, unbeaten in his first 10 Premier League games. Football is nothing if not fickle like that but Pochettino refuses to disguise his affection for his former club despite knowing it will not go down well with the Chelsea fans.
‘We need to be natural, not fake,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to be a hypocrite and say something I don’t feel. People are clever. You should not underestimate the fans, either the Chelsea or the Spurs ones.
‘I cannot just say I have forgotten all those things. That would look stupid. I am just going to be natural and enjoy a great game. I want to win. I want to beat them. It is important because Chelsea need a win and we need the points not because it is against Tottenham. It is not a special thing. I don’t to go there and think it is about revenge.
‘I want to enjoy it. We did something special there. Yes, our relationship broke when I finished my contract, but we are talking about emotional links and feelings and they are not broken, and will not be broken if they boo me. It’s not going to change my history, my past. It is something that will always be with me.’
Nor is Pochettino about to pretend five months is enough time to establish the same emotional bonds to Chelsea. They have to share experiences and achieve things together and that still seems some distance away.
Pochettino during his Spurs days, when he took them to the Champions League final
Since taking over at Tottenham Ange Postecoglou has worked out a well-balanced and organised team
He is searching for a balance in a young team thrown together by wild recruitment, and hopes a victory tonight can be transformational in the same way Tottenham’s 5-3 win against Chelsea in January 2015 proved to be a catalyst for his project at Spurs.
Pochettino’s team have produced their better performances against stronger opposition, teams prepared to attack and take chances, rather than those who sit deep and threaten on the break.
Tottenham will not sit back. Postecoglou claims he only knows one way to play and that is attack so it promises to be a thrilling contest, a fiercely complicated London rivalry with subplots galore.
Victory for Spurs would take them back to the top of the Premier League and extend their unbeaten run under a new boss whose recruitment strategy appears in stark contrast to Chelsea’s.
‘You know what they say, success has a million fathers and failure is a bit of an orphan,’ said Postecoglou. ‘So wherever I’ve been I’ve made sure I have the biggest say over recruitment. When you first go into a club, there are two measures. One is results, which tells its own tale, but you can’t always guarantee results early on because you’re trying to build something and there’s ups and downs.
‘The other thing you get measured on is the people you bring in. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve always put a lot of stock in those first few players. They have to come in and have an impact straight away.’
Big signings James Maddison, Micky van de Ven and Guglielmo Vicario have all made a strong impression in their opening weeks at Tottenham and, while Pochettino was getting himself into a tangle with Mr Bean and Mr Bojangles, Postecoglou was hobnobbing at the theatre with Sir Kenneth Branagh at his West End production of King Lear.
‘Sir Kenneth is a big Spurs fan and was kind enough to invite my wife and I to the theatre,’ said Postecoglou. ‘I caught up with him briefly, he was very kind with his time and gave me some advice which I’ll ignore just like he’d ignore my advice on acting.
‘There was a fair bit going on in that play. I definitely want a better ending than Sir Kenneth had, for sure.’
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