Pochettino on Dele Alli dive: darker arts are part of the game
He admits player deserved booking but argues football is about tricking your opponent
Tottenham Hotspur Mauricio Pochettino: “Dele is a clever boy. He is a little bit nasty.” Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images
The Tottenham Hotspur manager made no excuses for Alli, who went down under zero contact inside the Liverpool penalty area during the 2-2 draw. It was the third time in the midfielder’s two-and-half-season Premier League career that he had received a yellow card for diving.
But Pochettino dismissed the flashpoint as a minor issue while he made the point that football was “about trying to trick your opponent” one way or another – whether it be with a step-over, a tactical tweak or, even, a dive.
The darker arts were a part of the game, Pochettino argued. When a player was rumbled – as Alli was against Liverpool – he had to be punished by the referee. But that should be the end of the matter.
“It was a yellow card,” Pochettino said. “It happens. During different games, a lot of situations like this happen. The problem now is that we are so sensitive about the situation. And then we are so focused on Dele Alli. The referee was right and perfect. It was a yellow card and nothing [else]. It’s too much sometimes. There is such a focus on this type of situation. I think it’s a minimal issue.
Nobody is perfect
“Of course, Dele is not perfect. Nobody is perfect. He is a clever boy. He is a little bit nasty. Football is a creative sport in which you need the talent that grows in a very intelligent person, a very smart brain. But the problem today is that, more than this type of situation, I am worried we are going to change the game that we know.
“We are so focused on minimal details. I am worried that in a few years, the sport that we love now and that people love to watch around the world, will be pushed into a very rigid, structured thing – with the VAR and with being focused too much on the small actions like this.”
Pochettino went back to a time – 20 or 30 years ago – when everybody “congratulated the player who tricks the referee,” and it was possible to feel his inner cynical Argentine.
But he was on safe ground when he highlighted how English players have never been angels. Notoriously, Pochettino was adjudged to have fouled the England striker, Michael Owen, at the 2002 World Cup. David Beckham converted the penalty and England had a 1-0 group stage win over Argentina. The contact from Pochettino on Owen was minimal, to say the least. He has previously said that Owen “jumped like he was in a swimming pool”.
Kill the game
“You believe that in England you were honest and always perfect,” Pochettino added, with a smile. “That is the football I was in love with when I was a child. Football is about trying to trick your opponent. Yes or no? What does ‘tactic’ mean? When you do some tactics, it is to try to trick the opponent. You say, ‘Oh, I play on the right but I’m going to finish on the left.’ It’s a mix and I am worried that maybe we are going to kill the game.”
Alli was on the wrong end of a penalty area decision in Tottenham’s 2-0 home win over Manchester United last Wednesday. He was cut down by Antonio Valencia only for no action to be taken. Pochettino was asked whether Alli had been denied because of his reputation for diving.
“I believe the referee did not see it,” Pochettino replied. “The referees are humans, too. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are not right. I like this. In football, we accept that this is the situation. My worry is only this - if you dive and the referee saw you, you are punished. Of course, and he [Alli] deserves it. But don’t go more crazy.”
Pochettino is expected to rest Alli and a host of other regulars for tonight’s FA Cup replay against Newport County at Wembley. The club’s new signing, Lucas Moura, is ineligible, having joined after the original tie.