Mauricio Pochettino has admitted it was difficult for him to go back to his previous employer, Southampton, and it remains normal for some of the club’s fans to hate him, as Victor Wanyama may discover on his own first return to St Mary’s Stadium with Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday night.
Wanyama swapped Southampton for Spurs in an £11m deal last June, having tried and failed to drive the same move in the summer of 2015. Back then the midfielder had asked to be transferred only for Southampton to refuse the request.
He will be the third former Southampton favourite to feature in Tottenham colours at St Mary’s in three seasons, following Pochettino – who made his move to White Hart Lane in May 2014 – and Toby Alderweireld, who signed for Spurs in July 2015, having spent the previous season on loan at Southampton from Atlético Madrid. Alderweireld had looked primed to complete a permanent transfer to Southampton only for Pochettino to hijack the deal as Tottenham paid what has come to feel like a bargain £11.4m for the central defender.
Pochettino’s defection was the most hurtful to Southampton and, when he returned for the first time in April 2015, the home support declared it “Ronald Koeman Day” in honour of their manager at the time. The club’s fans were urged to wear orange, the kit colour of Holland, for whom Koeman had a distinguished international career, and the idea was to shun Pochettino.
“For me it was difficult,” Pochettino said. “I remember my first game back there. They prepared the Orange day to try to upset me. But, in the same way, they showed their love for me because if they didn’t [do that], it would have showed they never cared for me. If they want to show the love for another manager, it was hard for them.”
Pochettino said there had been no abusive words towards him that day, when an entertaining game ended 2-2 but, when he was put right, he smiled. “That’s the good thing about it being difficult for me to understand English – I thought the response was good,” Pochettino said.
“I feel the love from the people but it’s normal for some of the fans to hate me. That doesn’t change my respect for Southampton, the club and the people we worked together with for a year and a half. For different situations we had to split our way. But always my feelings or my memories will be good.
“Always, you have to respect the supporters and they were not happy that, first, I moved here and then brought Toby and now Victor. We need to show full respect to the club and our former fans but it is normal when the people love you and you take a decision that is not for them – it’s normal that they are a little bit upset about the decision. You can respect that.”
There was no obvious antipathy towards Alderweireld at St Mary’s last season, when Spurs won 2-0 in December, and it remains to be seen how Wanyama will be treated. “Will Victor be strong enough to handle it? We will see,” Pochettino said.
The chances are that Wanyama, who grew up in Muthurwa – an unforgiving neighbourhood in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi – will not be fazed by any jeers. He has long been a fighter. The 25‑year‑old might be more concerned with locating a sharper passing groove to answer the accusation that, with him in the key defensive midfield role, Tottenham are not quite as cohesive as with Eric Dier in the position.
What Pochettino would give for a repeat of last season’s result at St Mary’s, when Harry Kane and Dele Alli were the scorers, and the victory provided a major spark; Tottenham went on an eye-catching run that would lift them into Premier League title contention.
Pochettino talked with a good deal of respect about Southampton and the club’s manager, Claude Puel, whom he knows from his time in France. He was a player at Paris Saint-Germain when Puel was manager of Lille. The respect was most apparent when the Southampton striker Jay Rodriguez was a subject for discussion.
Pochettino worked productively with Rodriguez at Southampton until April 2014, when the player ruptured his anterior cruciate knee ligament against Manchester City – an injury that would keep him out for 16 months. Pochettino said he was delighted to see Rodriguez score twice in Southampton’s last match, which was the 3-1 win at Bournemouth.
“I texted him,” Pochettino said. “I’m happy to see him on the pitch again. He suffered a very bad injury and that day at Man City is fresh in our minds. He’s a top player and a top man. Now we will suffer him because he will be our opponent, our enemy.”