London: While Rafael Benitez’s future at Newcastle United remains uncertain, Mauricio Pochettino confirmed his commitment to Tottenham Hotspur this week by agreeing a new deal that will keep him at the club until 2021.
The two managers meet at St James’ Park this weekend when Pochettino will attempt to cap a fine season by seeing his side confirmed as runners-up behind Premier League champions Leicester City, while Benitez’s target is to ensure Newcastle restore at least some pride before dropping down into the Championship.
Pochettino sparked some concerns among Spurs’ fans when he was spotted leaving a restaurant with Alex Ferguson, the former Manchester United manager, earlier this week.
But the Argentinian confirmed Ferguson was not attempting to persuade him to move to Old Trafford and stressed he was now focused on making sure Tottenham finish above north London rivals Arsenal for the first time in over 20 years.
“When I was young, when I started my career as a manager, he (Ferguson) was always my inspiration, my reference and when you can share two hours with a person who, for me, was the greatest manager in the world, the history of football, only you can enjoy,” said Pochettino.
“Did he ask about Manchester United? No. If you know Sir Alex Ferguson, he is a person we can all learn from because he has a fantastic history about football and about life.”
Turning to the table, Pochettino said: “I can understand it, for our supporters it’s special to be above Arsenal, but I want to be second not because we’ll be above our enemy, our opponent, but because we are ambitious.
“Maybe one day Arsenal finish eighth, we finish seventh, yes we’re above but it’s not a success for us.”
– Too late -Newcastle are set for further talks with Benitez in an effort to persuade the Spaniard to remain as manager.
After initial talks on Thursday, Benitez will meet Newcastle managing director Lee Charnley again early next week, with the club hoping those discussions will see the 56-year-old stay in place to lead the north-east club’s efforts to return to the Premier League at the first attempt.
Benitez, who failed to prevent the club falling into the Championship for the second time in seven seasons after taking charge for the final 10 games, has a relegation release clause in his current short-term deal.
But he could well agree to remain at St James’ Park, providing he receives assurances about the transfer budget available, and the amount of control he will have at his disposal.
The former Liverpool manager is said to be open to an approach from his old club’s local rivals Everton regarding their vacant manager’s role, but Newcastle hope to tie him down to a long-term deal.
Despite their relegation fate being sealed by north-east neighbours Sunderland’s 3-0 victory over the Toffees in midweek, Benitez will resist the temptation to make sweeping changes for the final top flight game at St James’ Park for at least 15 months.
Newcastle are unbeaten in five games, but can still be overtaken for 18th place by Norwich.
Benitez is aware his side need to give a good account of themselves given Arsenal can still overtake Tottenham to finish runners-up should Newcastle win on Sunday.
Fabricio Coloccini is again set to miss out with a calf injury that has kept the Argentina defender out since February.
The Newcastle skipper believes Benitez, who replaced Steve McClaren in March, could have saved the club from the drop had he been given more time.
“He’s changed things in the right way, but maybe it was too late and that’s why we’re in this position,” said Coloccini.