TWO Mauricios from Argentina started their coaching career together playing with salt and pepper pots in a Madrid canteen.
But now the Pellegrino half of the double act would love to take on pal Pochettino in the Premier League.
Mauricio Pellegrino was Rafa Benitez’s assistant at Liverpool and Inter Milan.
And now he is making a name for himself as the main man by guiding newly-promoted Alaves to mid-table in La Liga and a Copa del Rey final date with Barcelona.
And if Poch can take Tottenham past Chelsea in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, they could win their first trophies as managers on the same day — May 27.
It all started with the pair at a coaching course in the Spanish capital 11 years ago.
Pellegrino, 45, said: “We used to have some very lively debates in the canteen over lunch or dinner.
Rafa can win trophies for Toon
RAFA BENITEZ can win major honours for Newcastle if given time and the right backing.
That is the view of his former assistant at Liverpool and Inter Milan, Mauricio Pellegrino.
The Argentine worked for Benitez between 2008 and 2010 and still heralds him as one of the world’s finest managers.
Benitez’s Toon are on the brink of a return to the Premier League.
And Pellegrino said: “I know he can grow Newcastle little by little — that is what he does.
“He can get a team with the right mentality and quality to fight the very best in the Premier League.
“But he will need time.”
Pellegrino believes Benitez’s communication skills make him stand out.
He added: “It was two years working for a master.
“He was the first manager I saw who asked the players how they felt. That changed their method completely.
“He can teach adults and the most experienced players to be better — and that is an art.”
“He’d use salt and pepper pots as players and move them about the table to simulate certain situations in a match.
“Whatever view I took on things, he’d deliberately take another. It was because he wanted to show there were always different solutions to certain situations.
“There would be a lot of arguing between us — more from Mauricio than me — but it was fantastic.
“We were good friends, knew each other as players and it’s important to learn and share from each other’s experiences.”
So, what chance of elevating the salt-and-pepper pot duels to Premier League level?
Pellegrino added: “If there is an Argentine in England doing a good job right now, then he is also doing a good job for any other Argentines wanting to manage there in the future.
“I’m so happy for him because he showed people in your country by what he has done with Southampton and Tottenham that you don’t need to have a history in the Premier League to do a good job.”
Make no mistake, Pellegrino has great pedigree and history.
He played as a centre-half for Barcelona, Valencia, Liverpool and Argentina under the likes of Benitez, Claudio Ranieri, Louis van Gaal and Hector Cuper.
He lost two Champions League finals with Valencia in 2000 and 2001 — the second when his final penalty in the shootout was saved by Bayern Munich’s Oliver Kahn.
Pellegrino did win the Uefa Cup with Valencia in 2004 — adding to two La Liga titles at the Mestalla under Benitez in 2002 and 2004 plus another with Barca in 1999 — before cutting his teeth in coaching alongside Benitez at Anfield.
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola was a team-mate of Pellegrino’s during his season at the Nou Camp and already showing signs of becoming one of the great minds in European football.
The Argentine said: “Pep, as a player, was the type who loved the game — he wanted to know everything about the others.
“He was always asking about Argentine managers and how we were training at this moment. That detail surprised me.
“He helped me a lot to adapt to Barcelona because when I came from Argentina it was really difficult to switch to a different culture on and off the pitch.
“For me his biggest talent as a coach is his capacity to translate his ideas to the players and convince them. This is the most difficult thing to do in management — to convince players.”
Pellegrino admires how no amount of public pressure distracts Guardiola from his beliefs or convictions — dropping England keeper Joe Hart being a prime example.
He added: “Pep follows the same line always. When he’s convinced about something, you must follow him. In football, the nice thing is that there’s no such thing as the truth — there are different ways to arrive at the same result.
“Ideas are different. Every single person is different. My idea might not be the best one for you, but it doesn’t mean that either of us is wrong. We can learn from each other.”
A young Jose Mourinho was Van Gaal’s assistant when Pellegrino was at Barca.
But he admitted: “I would never have imagined then that Mourinho would become the coach he is today.
“Jose would every week give us a report on our opponents in 15 minutes.
“He was very close to the players, especially the Portuguese like Figo and our keeper Vitor Baia; and there were the Brazilians such as Rivaldo, Giovanni — a lot of good players.
“But it was Van Gaal who pushed him hard to manage in Portugal that got him on the right path.”
Pellegrino believes management can be more challenging than marriage. He said: “If you are married, you chose your wife. Now imagine being at a big club with 25 players who you haven’t even chosen.
“And then you also have a technical director, owners, shareholders all to keep happy. It’s very difficult.”
Pellegrino lasted just half-a-season in charge of Valencia in his first managerial role during a troubled time for the club.
He moved back to Argentina where he was boss of Estudiantes and Independiente then returned to Spain to work wonders at unfancied Alaves.
But his desire to manage in England one day is clear.
He added: “I started my management career at Valencia fighting for titles and Champions League football. And I was in Argentina for three years, one club playing to win the title, the other to avoid relegation.
“The Premier League is one of the best leagues in the world and to be there and be part of it is important.
“I’d like to be there one day. I must say that.
“But I’m enjoying this moment at Alaves because our future in this profession is not like that of an engineer or a doctor — we cannot work in this job for 30, 40 years.
“We never know how long we can be at the top level.
“When you are at a new club, you need time to build.
“But the problem is you don’t get that time in football.
“Quick results are demanded.
“Manuel Pellegrini was right when he said, ‘When a club appoints you it’s because you’re the best . . . but when you are gone it’s because you’re really bad.’
“No other job in the world do you go from good to bad, sometimes in a matter of 30 days to six months. It’s crazy.”