Mauricio Pochettino believes Southampton fans still angry at him for joining Tottenham only show how much they care.
Pochettino swapped St Mary’s for White Hart Lane in the summer of 2014 after leading Saints to eighth, then the club’s highest ever finish in the Premier League.
The disappointment of Pochettino’s departure was quickly eased as Saints finish seventh and sixth in consecutive seasons under Ronald Koeman but some fans still feel bitter towards the Argentinian.
Tottenham launched a surprise title challenge under Pochettino last term and ill-feeling grew when first Toby Alderweireld and then Victor Wanyama followed him to north London.
Southampton supporters wore orange in support of Koeman when Pochettino first returned to St Mary’s in 2015 but the Spurs manager says he takes criticism as a compliment.
“For me it was difficult, it’s true,” Pochettino said. “The first day, 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 ignore me it’s because they never cared for me.
“But if they want to show their love for another manager it was because it was hard for them.”
Wanyama has enjoyed an excellent start to his Tottenham career, cementing his place as Pochettino’s first-choice defensive midfielder. Alderweireld, meanwhile, who was on loan at Southampton in 2014-15 but chose Spurs when leaving Atletico Madrid permanently, was arguably the team’s most important player last season.
“Always you have to respect the supporters and they were not happy that first I moved here and then Toby and now Victor,” Pochettino said.
“But I think 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.
“For different situations, we had to split our way. But always my feelings and my memories will be good in my mind.”
Tottenham will be without Erik Lamela tonight as the winger is still recovering from a sore hip.
However, Vincent Janssen and Mousa Dembele are expected to be available after overcoming ankle and foot injuries respectively while Alderweireld has shaken off a back problem.
For his part Saints boss Claude Puel wants his side’s fans to concentrate on getting behind the home side.
“I think it’s important our fans keep all of their support for their players and the team, to give us a strong spirit to try to make a good result,” he added.
“It’s an important game for us. I wish Pochettino a good comeback with good support, but I wish for a good result for us.”
Puel knows his side - who have lost striker Charlie Austin to injury - face a tough task to beat Tottenham keeper Hugo Lloris.
Puel says he is Tottenham’s most important player, having signed him while he was boss of Ligue 1 side Lyon and helped mould him into the ‘sweeper keeper’ which Spurs snapped up four years ago.
“He’s an important player for Tottenham because he is clinical every time, he will make saves in every game,” said Puel.
“The most important player at Tottenham, he has a good level, good quality, character, and he’s a good captain.
“I made him captain because he sets an example, inside and outside the ground. He gives good words, good sentences about the game. He always recognises the situation. It’s a good thing for a trainer to have a player like him.”
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