They say you should never meet your heroes – but Mauricio Pochettino admits he was in dreamland when he shared a room with Diego Maradona. Not that he actually managed to get much sleep…
Spurs’ manager was playing for his first club, Newell’s Old Boys, in Argentina when Maradona joined the team in 1993.
The pair were at opposite ends of their careers, with Pochettino just 21 years old and World Cup-winner Maradona in his 30s. Yet they became room-mates.
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“It’s so difficult in English to express myself and my emotion,” said Pochettino. “I think I was one of the happiest people in the world when I met him for the first time. It was a dream come true, but more than a dream.
“I remember it always because I loved football and Maradona. There was always a big picture on my wall where I slept every day, and every night I saw him. Then one day I meet him, and one day I sleep with him! Well, he was sleeping, I was wide awake. I was looking at him. It was impossible [to sleep].
“It’s so difficult to express it. It’s an emotional feeling that you cannot describe. I love him. I love everything about him.
“I knew Maradona, the real Maradona. We could see the real him on the pitch when he played football, and then there was his image – outside, it was crazy. But I promise you if he arrived here and opened the door, we’d all be in love with him, because of his energy, his personality.
“He’s a person that, when he’s with you, makes you feel the best. He’s so careful about the people around him. I learned a lot from him because he’s so careful about his people.”
One memory, from February 1994, sticks out for Pochettino in particular.
“He helped his image a little bit!” said the Tottenham boss. “We were together in the room during pre-season in Mar del Plata (an Argentine coastal town).
“Do you remember one day he started shooting the journalists in Argentina [with an air rifle]? The day before, he was sleeping with me.
“He loved basketball and this night he went to see it in Mar del Plata – the final in the Conference. And then, in the morning, I woke up and he wasn’t in the bed.
“I went to the breakfast. The manager asked about him and I said ‘no, he didn’t come back to the hotel’.
“After breakfast we went to training. Nobody knew about Diego. At lunchtime it was breaking news on the television, like Sky: Maradona shoots journalists in Buenos Aires. Four hundred kilometres away!
“That was the last day [he was with us]. After that I saw him a few times, but it was crazy.”
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