Before his appointment as manager of Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur, Mauricio Pochettino’s biggest claim to fame in the minds of the English media was his supposed foul on Michael Owen 14 years ago. That incident in the World Cup match between England and Argentina led to a famous David Beckham penalty goal and a 1-0 England win.
The incident was brought up in a press conference after Tottenham’s 5-0 dismantling of Swansea City, a rout that was brought about initially after Dele Alli went down in the box and match official Jonathon Moss awarded a penalty to Spurs. Swansea fans were livid, saying that Alli clearly dove.
Pochettino referenced the 2002 World Cup incident when asked by reporters about Spurs’ penalty, but didn’t admit that his player had embellished contact.
“It was 15 years or so ago when Owen dived. Don’t believe that English football is always fair play because Owen jumped like [he was] in a swimming pool. Come on. I didn’t touch him. I promise you. It’s true!
“Now, we have the influence of the Latin people that try to cheat, always. Maybe, you [in England] were more pure 20, 25, 30 years ago. Now you are like us!”
You can see that play in the video below — the play starts about 0:22”. Draw your own conclusions.
Pochettino went on to say that he didn’t have a clear view of the play that led to the penalty on Saturday, but that he would review it and discuss the matter with Dele if necessary.
“It’s too difficult to advise [Alli] because you cannot recreate in the future the same situation. You cannot advise: ‘Don’t fall down or…’ It’s too difficult to work about that. Dele is how he is. I haven’t spoken to him and I need to speak with him to know what happened in that situation. Maybe, he will say: ‘OK, I fell down and I didn’t mean to dive but the referee believed it was a penalty.’ Or, it wasn’t his intention. But it’s difficult [to speak about it] now.”
The replays of Alli going down in the box were somewhat inconclusive, but most observers labelled at minimum “soft.” It’s unlikely that the penalty had a huge impact in a 5-0 drubbing where Swansea only managed one shot on goal the entire game, but it did bring up the continuing specter of embellishment in football and whether it’s considered cheating.
Pochettino did admit that when he was a player, several Argentine-league teammates of his did practice embellishment and how to go down easy in the box.
“In Argentina, yes. The people sometimes practice that. It’s true. But many years ago. Now, I don’t know. But when I was a player, it was part of training to try to cheat. Yes, [it was] at Newell’s. Estudiantes, if you remember… Many, many years ago. It was part of practice.
“No, of course [we don’t practice diving at Tottenham]. I don’t like that.”