Tottenham boss Pochettino defends Alli, says tricking refs part of game
LONDON — Mauricio Pochettino says Dele Alli deserved to be booked for diving against Liverpool but the Tottenham manager claims “tricking” officials and opponents is part of the game he loves.
The Spurs boss warned that excessive focus on “small actions” like Alli’s would over-sanitise football and said the game will suffer if referees are not allowed to make mistakes.
Alli’s booking in the dramatic 2-2 draw at Anfield was his third for simulation since his Tottenham debut in August 2015 — more than any other Premier League player in the same period — and it came four days after he was denied a clear penalty in the 2-0 win over Manchester United at Wembley.
“It was clear. It was a yellow card. The referee was right,” Pochettino said of Alli’s dive. “The problem now is that we are so sensitive about the situation. And we are so focused on Dele Alli.
“It’s too much sometimes. There is such a focus on this type of situation. I think it’s a minimal issue.
“Look, there are a lot of positives from Dele. Of course, he’s not perfect. Nobody is perfect. He is a clever boy. He is a little bit nasty. The problem today is about more than this type of situation: I am worried that we are going to change the game that we know, how we know football.
“Football is a creative sport, in which you need the talent that grows in a very intelligent person, and a very smart brain. And now we are so focused on minimal details.
“I am worried that in a few years, the sport that we love now — a passionate sport that the people love to watch around the world — will be pushed into a very rigid structure — with the VAR, with being focused too much on the small actions like this.
“To stop the game, to punish people… Twenty years ago, 30 years ago, all congratulated the player when he tricks the referee like this! Not just in Argentina but in England too.
“You believe that in England you were honest and always perfect! That is the football that I was in love with when I was a child.”
Sunday’s match has led to further calls for the widespread introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) after Spurs were awarded two controversial late penalties, one missed and the other scored by Harry Kane.
Referee Jon Moss consulted with the linesman after first Kane then Erik Lamela went down in the box and, although replays suggested both had been caught by opponents, Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk has accused them of diving.
Pochettino, who has previously said he is concerned about how VAR will be used, explained that players have always tried to gain any advantage and suggested that knowing when to go to ground is a legitimate ‘tactic.’
He said: “Football is about trying to trick your opponent. What does ‘tactics’ mean? When you do some tactics is to try to trick the opponent. You say, “Oh I go to the right but I’m going to finish on the left!”
“It’s a mix [of skills]. I am worried that maybe we are going to kill the game. We love this game!
“It is always in my mind to think positively about the [referee’s] decision,” he added. “The referees are humans too and sometimes they are right, sometimes they are not right. I like this type of football.
“In 10 months, the whole season, sometimes it is against you, sometimes it is for you. In football we accept that is the situation and sometimes the referees are going to help and sometimes they are going to not help you.
“Only my worry is this: of course if you dive and the referee saw you, you are punished. Of course and he deserves it. But don’t go more crazy!”
Pochettino said Alli could be rested for Wednesday’s FA Cup fourth-round replay against Newport County at Wembley but Toby Alderweireld and Danny Rose are expected to start as they approach match fitness.
Dan is ESPN FC’s Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.