Mauricio Pochettino still loves Southampton but knows that affection is unlikely to be reciprocated when his former side arrives at Tottenham this weekend.
Eyebrows were raised when the former Argentina defender replaced the popular Nigel Adkins at the St Mary’s helm in January 2013, yet the relative unknown quickly established himself as one of the finest managerial talents around.
Pochettino’s attacking, high-pressing style earned widespread praise, as did the manner in which English talent like Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Jay Rodriguez flourished under his tutorship.
That success saw Southampton last season enjoy their best-ever Barclays Premier League campaign – a feat that saw Spurs come calling in the summer, with Pochettino and his staff lured to White Hart Lane.
That exit led to a well-documented talent drain at St Mary’s, making the job done by successor Ronald Koeman so far this season all the more remarkable.
Saints head to White Hart Lane on Sunday second in the standings and looking for a seventh successive win in all competitions – a start which has surprised fans and pundits alike, although seemingly not the Spurs boss.
“Yes, why not? This is football,” Pochettino said. “When they start with a new project and new players and staff, why not?
“In football the most important thing is belief and Southampton like a club have a great force, power and they believe and this is important. I am happy.
“We have a lot of friends a lot of people I love in Southampton. I’m happy for their start in the league for the players, the people from the club. I have a very good memories.”
This will be an emotional encounter for Pochettino but one in which Saints fans are unlikely to show much – if any – affection towards their former boss.
“I don’t know [if the fans love me],” he said. “I love Southampton. I love a lot of people.
“That year-and-a-half in my life was an amazing period and I left, but this is another thing. I have amazing memories from Southampton.
“I know it’s football. Now I am happy that they are happy at the beginning of the season and for me that is enough.
“In football, you deserve, you don’t deserve [certain things]. Some people say okay, some people say no, but this is football.
“I’m happy Southampton have a great season and it’s a game that we need to win the three points.
“We need to fight with Southampton on Sunday, but it’s emotional. Football is emotional and Sunday is emotional for us too.”
Spurs head into Sunday’s match off the back of a last-gasp draw with Besiktas on Thursday evening.
Pochettino’s men were on course for a first Europa League Group C victory, as Harry Kane’s 20-yard strike was complemented by a world-class goalkeeping display by Hugo Lloris.
However, Vlad Chiriches’ farcical late handball after an air kick gave Besiktas a penalty, from which Demba Ba coolly rolled home for a 1-1 draw.
It is a frustration Pochettino said Spurs cannot afford to dwell on with Saints arriving this weekend – sentiments echoed by goalscorer Kane.
“It was great to get on the scoresheet again but we’ve come away disappointed,” the forward said. “We dug deep as a team and to concede so late is heartbreaking on our behalf.
“Besiktas are a top side, they were unlucky not to qualify for the Champions League so we knew we’d have to be at our best.
“They created a few chances but Hugo is a top goalkeeper and pulled off some world-class saves.
“It would have been a great win and we really wanted to win this game, we knew it would be a big game in the group.
“We had chances as well, their goalkeeper made a couple of good saves, but we have to move on.”
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