Mauricio Pochettino has laughed off Barcelona legend Xavi’s suggestion that Manchester City will try to sign Dele Alli from Tottenham this summer.
Xavi is close with City hierarchy Pep Guardiola, Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, adding weight to his words about Alli this week. But Pochettino said, half-jokingly, that Xavi was his “enemy” from when the two of them were on opposite sides of the Barcelona/Espanyol divide.
Pochettino even told a story about Xavi buying a crucial penalty decision against Espanyol in December 2009 and refusing to admit afterwards that he had dived. “It goes from lie to lie to lie,” Pochettino teased.
Xavi is coming up to the second year of his time with Qatari club Al Sadd, who he joined after winning the Champions League for the fourth time. Pochettino suggested that Xavi has too much time on his hands now he is playing in the Qatar Stars League, why is why he is causing mischief on behalf of his old manager. Pochettino is not averse to mischief himself and left a metaphorical boot in on his old cross-town rival at his Tuesday afternoon press conference.
“I know Xavi very well, I played against him a lot, and when I was a manager,” Pochettino said. “He is in a period when he loves to talk, he’s in Doha. Listen, he was a Barcelona player, he is my enemy. He tried to destroy our focus to win, because he hates me. Because he’s a Barcelona player and fan.”
Xavi had said this week that Guardiola had told him he wants to sign more English players. Xavi added that Alli was “technically the sort of player that Pep likes”, and that City had the resources to complete the deal.
Pochettino insisted that he was not familiar with Xavi’s comments, but speculated that he was trying to help out Guardiola ahead of a busy summer. “I don’t know what Xavi said,” Pochettino wondered, “he is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola.”
Pochettino is never happier than when telling anecdotes from earlier in his career, and he particularly loves ones involving foul play and subterfuge. Jokingly trying to paint Xavi as dishonest, he remembered how the little midfielder bought a crucial penalty for a 1-0 win over Pochettino’s Espanyol in December 2009.
“Yesterday Thierry Henry was here, and we remembered that game because he [Xavi] cheated the referee,” Pochettino said. “He fell down, it wasn’t a penalty, but [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game 1-0. I remember, it was a wide free-kick, the marking man was Raul Baena. Xavi fell down and said ‘penalty’, they gave a penalty. I remember always Xavi for that decision. “
What especially annoyed Pochettino was the fact that Xavi did not admit his trickery afterwards. “After it was very funny,” Pochetino said. “Because no one touched him. And in the media, he said, ‘no, no, I promise, it was a penalty’. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”
Pochettino said that big club interest in his players was a natural symptom of Spurs’ success, but said that they have no intention whatsoever of selling two-time PFA Young player of the year Alli to City, or anyone else for that matter.
“Because we are doing things and the club has a lot of potential, the focus is on our talented players,” Pochettino said. “My relationship with Daniel Levy is so close. The good thing is we have the plan to try to improve. And we will deliver it when we finish the season. Like I told you, the players that we want to keep, we will keep. Because he said to me ‘we don’t need money’. If we sell some players it is because we want to sell some players.”
Spurs go to Crystal Palace on Wednesday night trying to keep their Premier League title push on track after the disappointment of losing the FA Cup semi-final on Saturday. That paled into insignificance after the tragic passing of Under-23 coach Ugo Ehiogu on Friday from a heart attack. Pochettino said that counsellors have been working with the club to talk to players from the reserve team most upset by Ehiogu’s death.
“The doctor and people involved have [spoken] to individuals and in different groups,” Pochettino said. “All the different players had different relationships with him. That is so private and so individual, that feeling. It was tough for all the staff.”