AS PAUL HECKINGBOTTOM watched an emotionally drained Mauricio Pochettino break down in tears at the end of an astonishing evening in Amsterdam, the Hibernian head coach was transported back to Wembley.
The 41-year-old crossed swords with the Argentinean tactician at the home of English football in 2017, with his Barnsley side succumbing to a narrow 1-0 defeat against Spurs in the third round of the Carabao Cup.
The record books will show that Dele Alli notched the decisive goal to see off Heckingbottom’s admirably well-drilled Tykes.
However, the untold story took place in the bowels of the stadium as he took the opportunity to pick the brains of the former Espanyol and Southampton boss.
It was an illuminating insight into how Pochettino has been able to usurp the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United on a comparative shoestring, his relationship with his players and the incessant demands he places on his squad.
So, as Spurs recovered from a 2-0 half-time deficit at the Johan Cruyff Arena to win 3-2 and progress to the Champions League final on away goals, there was one man in Edinburgh who was far from surprised to see Poch reach the top.
“The big thing I’ll take away from Wednesday night is Pochettino at the end of the game,” he smiled. “That is someone who is so totally invested in his job that you can’t fail to be impressed.
“I’ve actually competed against him in the [Carabao] Cup and we spent a long time together chatting after the game.
“We were talking about the game – why we set up as we did – and then spoke about players. He is in the Premier League at the very top end, but still had that challenge of finding a way to overachieve against [Manchester] United, Arsenal, Chelsea, [Manchester] City and Liverpool.
“You compare their expenditure to other clubs and they’ll certainly be overachieving compared to other clubs and they are only getting better.
“We [Barnsley] were trying to do the same in the Championship so there were similarities to discuss.
“What struck me was his philosophy that everybody had to want to get better otherwise they were no good to him.
“He is someone who I see as one of the very top managers around. I wanted both of the English teams to be in the final anyway but, for Pochettino especially, I was over the moon.”
The image of Pochettino in tears after the full-time whistle blew in the Dutch capital will be one of the indelible images of the competition this year.
“He is heavily invested in the club, the fans, the players,” the former Barnsley and Leeds boss continued. “He’ll feel like they’re his kids on the pitch. It will have been pride, relief and joy. It just floods out.
“If I had been in his position and spent that amount of time working towards it, I’d be the same.”
Indeed, he knows that for a fact, having been forced to compose himself during an open-top bus parade for his Barnsley side at the end of the 2015/16 season, with the Tykes celebrating the dual achievement of promotion to the Championship and winning the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
“I remember when we went up with Barnsley, going around on the open top bus, I had a moment to myself,” he continued. “That’s why I can probably relate to. You invest a hell of a lot of time in this job and you invest emotionally.”
Heckingbottom targets swift summer signings
Meanwhile, in the more modest surroundings of Scottish football, Heckingbottom, who takes his side to Kilmarnock on Saturday, insists he is already laying the foundations for his assault on the Premiership next season.
He confirmed that talks have been held with Barnsley’s Adam Jackson over a possible move to Easter Road but emphasised that no firm offer has been made – and was reluctant to be drawn on any other specific targets.
However, he did underline that he intends to complete his business in swift fashion and avoid any deadline day drama when August draws to an end.
“My target is the 20th of June,” he added. “It won’t happen but I would love to have everyone in place by then. If, as a coach who sees value in working with players, why would I wait until the end of August? Two-and-a-half months after we come back? We are trying to guard against that.
“I know exactly what I need and we are well on with it.”