I learned a lot from him, says Spurs manager who recalled one day during his playing career when the Argentinian legend opened fire on journalists
Diego Maradona is always with Mauricio Pochettino. The Argentinian legend is seared into the Tottenham managers psyche and will be with him in spirit on Sunday afternoon when Chelsea visit Wembley in a deliciously early examination of his and Antonio Contes title ambitions.
But one crazy morning by the coast in 1994 when Pochettino and Maradona were supposed to be sharing a room as team-mates of Newells Old Boys, the World Cup-winning hero of a nation was nowhere to be seen. What transpired gave the young Pochettino a glimpse into the art of crisis management and dealing with star names and the attention they bring, even if the problems that transpired were off the scale when it comes to sheer and utter madness.
Danny Rose has spoken out about wage disparity while Spurs fans are showing discontent over a lack of summer signings. Finding out about a missing Maradona, who has been waving a gun about, is something else entirely.
We were together in the room during pre-season in Mar del Plata, recalls Pochettino. I remember one day he started shooting the journalists in Argentina. The day before he was sleeping in my room. He loved basketball and went to see it in Mar del Plata the final in the conference. And then, in the morning, I woke up and he wasnt in bed.
I then go to breakfast, the manager asked about him and I said: No, no, no, he didnt come back to the hotel. After breakfast we went to training. Nobody knew about Diego and at lunchtime it was breaking news on the television Diego shoots journalists in Buenos Aires! Four hundred kilometres away!
The incident that led to Maradona receiving a suspended sentence of two years and 10 months after injuring photographers and reporters preceded the disgraceful end of his international career being thrown out of the 1994 World Cup after testing positive for drugs. Pochettinos admiration, however, knows no bounds. I love him, he says. I love everything about him. I knew Maradona, the real Maradona. We see him on the pitch and then there is his image. Outside it was crazy.
But I promise you, if he arrived here and opened the door wed all be in love with him. His energy, his personality and hes a person that when hes with you he makes you feel the best. Hes so careful about the people around him. I learned a lot from him. Hes so careful about his people.
Pochettino spent only a season in Maradonas company before carving out a career-transforming move to Espanyol, where he stayed for six years before signing for Paris Saint-Germain. That year with El Diego was, however, enough for him to become transfixed and inspired in equal measure by one of footballs most polarising yet magical protagonists.
It’s so difficult in English to express myself and my emotion,” Pochettino says. I think I was one of the most happiest people in the world when I met him for the first time. Because it was a dream come true, but more than a dream.
I remember always because I love #football and [with] Maradona it was more than this. There was always a big picture on my wall where I sleep every day, every night I see him. When one day I meet him and then one day I share a room with him, it’s an emotional feeling for me.
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