It is not the first time that speculation surrounding a move to Barcelona has surrounded Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino, and he has most recently been forced to shun the questions over a move after the future of current Barcelona manager Luis Enrique was thrown into doubt following their 4-0 Champions League humbling at Paris Saint-Germain.
Despite Pochettino’s links to Barcelona’s cross-city rivals Espanyol, where he enjoyed an extensive playing career before a three-year stint in charge of the club, there has been little deterrent to speculation that the Argentine may be lined-up to replace Enrique at the Camp Nou end of the season, with a Champions League exit on the cards and the Blaugrana trailing Real Madrid in the La Liga title race.
However, when quizzed by Sky Sports about the possibility of a move, Pochettino brushed off the question and preferred to talk only about Spurs’ Thursday night Europa League clash at Gent, as Tottenham resume their European campaign following their early exit from the Champions League group stages.
“It’s important to be focused on the game,” he said.
“I can’t say anything about that. I’m at Tottenham. I am very happy, I have four more years on my contract, I’m enjoying an exciting project.
“It’s true it’s not an easy project, but I’m very happy here.”
With the weight of expectation at Barcelona, it is not inconceivable that Luis Enrique’s future should come into question, with the Catalans looking set to lose out on two trophies which would leave their upcoming Copa Del Rey final as their only shot at silverware. It remains to be seen, however, whether or not Barcelona would make an official approach for the Argentine in the event of an Enrique departure come the summer, and whether that would be enough to entice a manager who has become synonymous in Spain with their local rivals.
By his own admission back in January when previously asked about a potential move, Pochettino was ‘born with a bull on his arm’, a reference to his fierce affinity with Espanyol, and it would surely take an offer too good to turn down to entice the Argentine away from his long-term project at Tottenham, given that he has now laid roots down in London.
Elsewhere, amidst speculation surrounding interest in midfielder Dele Alli, former Spurs boss Harry Redknapp spoke of his amazement that Manchester United didn’t take a chance on the youngster three years ago, when at 18 he featured in MK Dons’ shock 4-0 win over Louis Van Gaal’s Red Devils in the League Cup.
In an interview on the Alan Brazil Breakfast show on talkSPORT, Redknapp affirmed his belief that Alli’s value may now even surpass that of United’s £89million world-record signing Paul Pogba, and that United as a club passed up the opportunity to sign a real gem as Spurs stumped up a bargain £5million to bring him to White Hart Lane.
“They are both top players”, Redknapp said. “Pogba is fantastic, but I’m a great fan of Dele Alli. He’s only 20 and he’s an amazing talent. He scores goals, he’s got absolutely everything.
“We kept reading about this kid at 17, scoring goals and doing everything at MK Dons, and when they played Man United a couple of years back in the cup they still didn’t take him after that game.
“At £5m in today’s market, it’s amazing. What a steal. He really is a talent.
“In the end, it took Tottenham to take the gamble. But it wasn’t a gamble, he’s a fantastic player.”
Spurs are certainly reaping the rewards of their investment now, and in hindsight it is remarkable that they had such little opposition in getting the deal done, having been clear frontrunners to sign the youngster for some time. United’s failure to chase up the player, despite then-manager Van Gaal’s reputation for featuring younger players, is a surprise as Redknapp points out.
However, the previous occasion United had made a significant investment on a League One player, when they paid around £6million to sign Nick Powell from Crewe Alexandra back in 2012, the move failed to bear fruit, which may have deterred the club’s hierarchy from taking another punt on an unproven youngster.
Finally, Gent midfielder Renato Neto, an old ally of Eric Dier from their days in the academy at Sporting Lisbon, is looking forward to re-uniting in battle with his own teammate in their Europa League clash on Thursday night.
Neto spent five years at Sporting before linking up with Belgian outfit Gent, whilst Dier spent two years in the senior set-up at the Portuguese club before being snapped up by Spurs.
Speaking at a pre-match press conference, Neto said: “I talked to him – I’m looking forward to seeing him back. He didn’t say anything about the game!
“He’s a good friend. He’s three years younger than me but we lived in the same academy. We used to see each other every day”.
It won’t be the friendliest of encounters on the pitch though, as both players will be fighting tooth and nail to ensure their side gain a positive result to boost their qualification prospects for the Round of 16.
“It’s one of my dreams to play in England”, Neto continued. “It’s a very good opportunity to show ourselves against an English team which is a very powerful team.
“We have to do our best like we did in the Champions League. It’s not going to be easy for us but I am sure we are ready mentally to do our best.”
Which of these old friends comes out on top in midfield may have some bearing on the way this first-leg in Belgium will shape-up, but with Spurs odds-on favourites, it is difficult to foresee any other conclusion bar an eventual Spurs progression, whether or not they find it tough tonight. Much will depend on which side Pochettino fields at the Ghelamco Arena, which will go some way towards revealing just how highly he values the competition, given that it provides an alternative route back into the Champions League.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Diego Gaona.