“You saw a manager at Liverpool who really affects his players,” he said of Jurgen Klopp, who inspired his men to overhaul a 3-0 deficit against Barcelona and book their place in the final. “Not just directly but in what he says and how he does things. His use of the club, the history of the club, the fans and the stadium, to get everything in sync like that – it produced such a powerful performance that it’s too much for anybody.
“And it won’t always work. But what it does is it gives you a chance to produce those performances. I don’t think many others could ever do that.”
Thrilled to see one English club through to the Madrid final, the Hibs head coach said the sight of Mauricio Pochettino in floods of tears at the end of the second semi-final, after Tottenham Hotspur had completed their own last-gasp comeback against Ajax, to make it an all-English final, was even more impactful.
“The big thing I’ll take away from it is Pochettino at the end of the game yesterday. For me, that is someone who is so invested in his job that you can’t fail to be impressed.
“I’ve actually competed against him in the League Cup and we had, oh, I don’t know how long after the game but we spent a long time together, and him and his staff were all fantastic. We spoke about lots of different things.”
That was back in September 2017 and although Heckingbottom’s Barnsley lost 1-0, it allowed the current Easter Road boss to pick the brains of one of the men he describes as “one of the top, top managers”.
“To see him be so pleased with what he’d achieved [against Ajax], yeah, it was unbelievable and then you talk about the football,and all four games were so attacking and open. They were unbelievable occasions. Not just football matches but occasions.
“As a coach, I get why Poch was like that – 100 per cent. I know, if I had been in his position and spent the amount of time he has working towards that, I’d be the same.
“He is heavily invested in the club, the fans, the players. He’ll feel like they’re his kids on the pitch. So it will have been pride, it will have been relief, it will have been joy. And he wouldn’t have been expecting it. It just floods out.
“I wanted both of the English teams to be in the final anyway but, for him, I was delighted. I was over the moon.”
The overspill of emotions is something Heckingbottom revealed he succumbed to after steering Barnsley back to the Championship in 2016.
“Yeah, I remember when we went up with Barnsley, going around on the open top bus, I had a moment to myself for that type of reason.
“That’s why I can probably relate to it, because you invest a hell of a lot of time in the job. And you invest emotionally.
“I’m lucky, I love my job, I love what I do. But it’s also dangerous – because it takes over. And that’s something I struggle with. I know I struggle with it. To get that time away, doing something else. You don’t necessarily want it but you need it, for the good of yourself. That’s why I was so pleased with those two games.”
Impressed by his Spurs counterpart when they sat down to talk after their League Cup meeting, Heckingbottom says they were able to share philosophies, fully aware that their struggles were relative.
“We were talking about the game – why we set up like we did – and then talking about players. He is in the top league at the top end but still had that challenge of finding a way to overachieve. Against [Manchester] United, Arsenal, Chelsea, [Manchester] City and Liverpool. We [Barnsley] were trying to do the same in the Championship. There were a lot of similarities there – albeit they were doing it on a much larger stage against the elite.
“What struck me was his philosophy that everybody had to want to get better. If they weren’t trying to get better every day then they were no good for him and if he is sure a player isn’t good enough for him, he has moved them out,” added Heckingbottom who takes his team to Rugby Park tomorrow but was delighted to hear that Pochettino’s sons have an avid interest in football in the capital, with Sebastiano supporting Hibs and his Maurizio aligned to city rivals Hearts.
“He’s got enthusiasm. He has knowledge. He loves it. Everyone has different methods. Some are stand-offish and create a response from the players by being that way. They let other people get close and are more aloof and find it easier to deal with things – discipline things.
“Others want to be best friends with players, be like a parent. And it’s probably down to the individual, what your skill set is and knowing how you affect people. But he is definitely invested in his players.”