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Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg: Tottenham new boy on working under Mourinho, learning from Xabi Alonso and returning to Southampton
Hojbjerg returns to St. Mary’s with his new club intent on banishing memories of Everton and getting one over his old employers. Watch all the action live from 12pm on Sunday.
The opportunity to work under Jose Mourinho was one Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg didn’t contemplate letting slip.
The 25-year old midfielder joined Tottenham for around £15m on a five-year deal in August after spending four years at Southampton. He now returns to St. Mary’s with his new club on Sunday, desperate to impress the man who made him his first signing for Spurs.
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BT Sport customers can watch the clash on the south coast from 12pm on Sunday 20 September on BT Sport 1 HD, BT Sport Ultimate and online as both clubs look to get their season up-and-running after opening day defeats.
For new boy Hojbjerg, who graduated through the esteemed Bayern Munich academy before making the Premier League his home, the chance to learn from Mourinho was a no-brainer.
“It’s a very, very big motivation,” says the Dane. “It’s not that I stand there every day and think it’s just Mourinho. I stand there every day and say this coach is the best. To learn from him, you would be stupid not to take the chance.
“He’s a coach that despite his CV and despite his history, he’s still so hungry and you feel that every day, you feel that every minute. It’s special to be around.
“But again, it’s not to stand there and to just adore, it’s to join in and work hard around it and to make things happen. To be motivated, to follow, to join in with the spirit and mentality. All the boys are doing it, I’m doing it and it’s a pleasure.”
Hojbjerg was widely viewed as an archetypal Mourinho signing when it was announced he was linking up with the legendary manager at Spurs. Tactically astute and disciplined out of possession, it was seen as a match made in heaven.
But after a disappointing debut in defeat against Everton last weekend, a lacklustre display which drew criticism from Mourinho about his team’s lack of desire to press their opponent, Hojbjerg is motivated to improve all facets of his game.
“We cannot be happy. We lost, we had some difficulties so the coach is right, we need to work on in and we are working on it and it will be better,” he says.
“When I step out of bed and I am able to take care of my kids and my family, the second most important thing on my mind is to become better than I was yesterday and to learn from my mistakes. This is what drives me.
What aspects of his game does he want to improve, in particular? “Everything. Tactical, technical, physical, mental part of it. To raise the bar and rise to the nest level. Play fast, play simple, read the game well, do what’s necessary for a teammate and be the best team player I can be. To be the best version I can be, that’s what I’m trying to strive for.
“I think I grow under responsibility and sometimes it can give you a headache and a bit less sleep but it’s something I like to deal with. I’m not perfect, I try to work had and give my all. What I would love to hear from my teammates one day when I stop is that they can always trust me.”
Hojbjerg was schooled at Bayern under Jupp Heynckes and Pep Guardiola before he moved on to pastures new to pursue more first-team opportunities. He made 25 appearances in total for the Bavarians in all competitions and played alongside some of the most revered names in European football.
The likes of Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm all starred for Bayern as they embarked on a period of domestic dominance after being briefly knocked off their perch by Borussia Dortmund, but there was one midfielder who Hojbjerg looked up to when he was coming through the ranks.
“Xabi Alonso, for sure. I was only with him six months or one year and he is the player I learned the most from watching,” he reflected.
“Without disrespecting him he wasn’t the fastest towards the end of his career. He was so smart positioning-wise, touch-wise, playing simple but playing effectively. To mention myself with him is not relatable but he’s a player I really learned a lot from.”
Spanish legend Alonso is renowned for his composure, guile and pinpoint passing accuracy and Hojbjerg concedes that his game is markedly more physical than his former teammate’s.
Does he have the same temperament on and off the pitch? “I cannot say I like to beat people up privately! It’s a fine balance, the heart cannot take over the mind, you still have to play with good intentions and good balance and be clever, read the game so you can’t boil too much. I’m getting older, I’m getting more experienced, I know how to react and not to react so I’m happy where I am and I’m working hard.”
He says he is looking forward to going back to the club he briefly captained and made 134 appearances for, but is fully focused on a gruelling fixture schedule which sees them play four more times before the end of September.
“There are so many games, I think I have never seen anything like it! I will not give my opinion on it. But we are there and we have to compete, there is no way around it, we will do our best for Tottenham, for the coach, for the players, for ourselves, to go out to every single game to try to win it.”
Watch Hojbjerg’s Tottenham take on Southampton from midday on Sunday 20 September on BT Sport 1 HD, BT Sport Ultimate and online.