Between the Lines: By defending Dele Alli, Mauricio Pochettino is endorsing cheating
After Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur played out a thrilling 2-2 draw at Anfield, the focus was inevitably on the poor decision-making process of the referees in awarding two penalties. Premier League referees have been under the microscope for years now but it all seems to be coming to a head with VAR now more of an inevitability rather than a debate.
However, once the furore over the decisions simmered down (it will never die, of course) the focus soon shifted to Dele Alli's diving. The 21-year-old Englishman was booked immediately after he went down in the box with zero contact from an opponent, much to the delight of the Kop End faithful.
All well and good? Not really. Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino went on to defend his young star, claiming it was part of the game and that it was being over-analysed to the point where pundits were "killing the game".
"Look, it was a yellow card. It happens. The referee was right. 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. It’s too much sometimes. There is such a focus on this type of situation. I think it’s a minimal issue." - Mauricio Pochettino
Unfortunately, dear Mauricio, it is NOT a minimal issue. What if a penalty had been awarded in this situation? Doesn't it change the complexion of the game? Doesn't it result in a booking?
What if it was a second yellow card and a sending-off? What if the yellow card was one too many that saw the defender suspended for the next game, maybe two?
There are so many plausible scenarios that could have played out had Alli sold his dive a little better to convince the referee that there was illegal contact made in the box. With his pace, it is quite easy to trick the referee and no player has been booked for simulation more in recent seasons than Alli.
But that's not all. Pochettino then goes on to romanticise diving and glorify cheating the referee in general.
“Football is about trying to trick your opponent - yes or no? When you do tactics, it is to try to trick the opponent. You play on the right, but you finish on the left.
"20 years ago, 30 years ago, we all congratulated a player when he tricks the referee like this. That is the football that I was in love with when I was a child." - Pochettino
It is understandable where he's coming from. Argentina legend Diego Maradona used to be his roommate when he had started his career and the striker did cheat when he scored the most memorable goal of the 20th century - the Hand of God - by leaping into the air and punching the ball past the English goalkeeper in the World Cup.
But the confusion here is that Pochettino feels that diving to con the referee and tactics to outsmart the opponents go hand-in-hand. They certainly do not!
Diving in the game has been attributed to the arrival of foreigners in the league by many television pundits but don't let that xenophobic outlook distract you from the fact that English players are also equally guilty of simulation and conning the referee.
What's that? English players diving is only a recent trend that began after the arrival of foreigners and their influence? Please! It's been happening for years.
Remember Michael Owen diving to win a penalty in the 2002 World Cup when England beat Argentina in the 'Group of Death'? David Beckham converted the penalty to give the Three Lions a famous 1-0 win.
The result eventually knocked La Albiceleste out of the World Cup. The "guilty" defender? Mauricio Pochettino (complete with a mullet and a headband).
"Don't believe that English football is fair play always because Owen jumped like he was in a swimming pool. Come on. I didn't touch him. I promise you. It's true." - Pochettino in 2016
Perhaps Pochettino still carries a bit of animosity towards the English for that penalty decision and is now blind to the fact that his own players dive? Englishmen or foreigners (hello, Erik Lamela) - it makes no difference.
It is a quote reeks of latent hostility.
Pochettino not in favour of VAR
While the rest of the world wants VAR to help referees with decision-making, Pochettino is worried that human error will be taken out of the equation.
“I am worried that maybe we are going to kill the game. We love this game. Referees are humans too, and sometimes they are right, sometimes they are not right.
"I am worried that in a few years, we are pushing the sport we love now - a passionate sport that people love to watch around the world - into a very rigid structure. With VAR, with focusing too much on small actions like this." - Pochettino
Again, this is a very archaic opinion held dear by most of the players and managers from the older generation. For them, football is a game that should be played non-stop without any breaks and any technological intervention.
But look back at the Liverpool-Spurs game and we saw how many minutes were wasted by the referee and linesman as they deliberated over the decision. VAR could have helped the match officials come to a decision - the right decision - in the same amount of time.
Ultimately, what the fans want is a fair result. Football is arguably the world's most popular sport but it is one of the last few to embrace technology in decision-making.
In a sport where so much is at stake - be it points, money, or trophies - every single decision has the potential to cause a butterfly effect and make a huge difference.