Mauricio Pochettino has spoken for the first time about his amazing days as a starry-eyed teenager sharing a room with football legend Diego Maradona.
And the Tottenham boss has revealed how the World Cup star, with god-like status around the globe, helped influence his life and career.
Having roomed with the world’s most famous player just months before the 1994 USA World Cup – when the infamous ‘Hand of God’ star was sent home in disgrace for failing a drugs test – Pochettino had a unique insight into the madness of Maradona’s world.
His spell as mentor to young Pochettino ended crazily, with a shooting and a suspended prison sentence for the troubled Argentinian star.
But the Tottenham boss insists he knows the real Maradona – and that’s why he will always be Pochettino’s football hero.
The transfer window has been an enduring irritation for the Spurs boss, with Tottenham supremo Daniel Levy controlling moves – or lack of them – for stars wanted by his manager.
His eyes light up, though, at memories of his early days with Newell’s Old Boys when he was Maradona’s room-mate on a pre-season fitness and conditioning camp at the Argentinian seaside resort of
Mar del Plata.
“It’s so difficult in English to express myself and my emotion about Maradona,” said Pochettino, who faces champions Chelsea in Tottenham’s first Premier League game at Wembley.
“I think I was one of the most happiest people in the world when I met him for the first time. Because, not only was it a dream come true, it was more than a dream.
“I will remember it always because I love football and Maradona. It was more than this – more than everything.
“As a boy, growing up, there was always a big picture of him on my wall where I slept. Every day and every night I saw him.
“Then, one day when I was 21 and with the first team at Newell’s, Maradona joined us. I met him and they made me his room-mate, so I sleep with him in the same room!
“I should say he was sleeping. Me? No. It was impossible. I slept with one eye open all night, just looking at him!
“It’s so difficult to express it. It’s an emotional feeling for me when I think about Maradona.”
Although Maradona’s career descended into chaos, with cocaine abuse and scrapes with authority blighting his latter days in the game, Pochettino’s judgement on the iconic star is from a different perspective.
The Spurs boss said: “I love him. I love everything about him because I knew Maradona, the real Maradona. Not the one other people see. We see him on the pitch and then there is his image.
“His image was defined by the craziness around him. Outside, it was crazy, yes we know that.
“But I promise you that if he arrived here and opened the door, we’d all be in love with him. He’s a person that, when he’s with you, he makes you feel the best. He makes you happy. It’s his personality.
“He’s so careful about the people around him, his friends and team-mates. I learned a lot from him.
“It is clear he helped his image a little bit! But I always keep Diego in private in my mind or just playing football – not the other stuff.
“That’s sometimes difficult because my last memory of him at Newell’s was the day he started shooting the journalists in Argentina!
“We were all together during pre-season in Mar del Plata and the day before that happened he was rooming with me. On this night, because he loved basketball, he went to the final of the Argentina Conference, in Mar del Plata.
“In the morning, I woke up and he wasn’t in bed.
“I went to breakfast and the manager called me over and asked me where he was.
“I said, ‘No, no, I don’t know where he is because he didn’t come back to the hotel to sleep last night’.
“So, after breakfast, we went to training. When we came back for lunch, still nobody knew where Diego was.
“Then, as we ate lunch, we saw the breaking news on the television… Diego shoots journalists in Buenos Aires –
400 miles away!
“After that it was crazy again – but I saw him a few times later and it was always good to be in his company.”