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The FA released its Pochettino-Dean disciplinary decision, and it makes no sense

The FA’s Independent Commission investigating the incident admits that it’s making an example of Poch. That’s dumb.

Burnley FC v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Ever since Mauricio Pochettino’s public confrontation with match official Mike Dean after Spurs’ 2-1 loss to Burnley a couple of weeks ago, we’ve wondered what exactly was said between the two that caused the Tottenham Hotspur manager to respond in such an uncharacteristically heated manner. Well, we still don’t know, and neither Dean, Poch, nor the FA are talking.

However, the FA did release a statement detailing the Independent Commission’s decision-making process that led to Pochettino serving a two-match touchline ban and a fine of £10,000. Unfortunately, that statement creates more questions than it answers, and seems to suggest that Mike Dean left out important information in his match report. A generous reading of the statement even makes it look like the FA’s decision is even more capricious and inexplicably harsh than what we previously thought.

The full text of the statement is available via a PDF download here. But here’s the summary version:

  • The FA charged Pochettino with “two breaches of FA Rule E3” (improper conduct w/r/t language or behavior on the field of play and in the tunnel after the match)
  • Mike Dean wrote in his match report that Pochettino “acted in a very irresponsible and aggresive (sic) manner. He wouldn’t stop saying ‘you know what you are, you know what you are.’”
  • Dean’s report also noted that, apart from the on-pitch incident, Pochettino again confronted Dean in the tunnel after the match and had to be led away by Burnley security.
  • Due to the “severity” and “public nature” of the incident, the commission decided to rule that it was “Non-Standard” and hence subject to a more stringent disciplinary response, initially as much as a three match touchline ban and a £16k fine
  • The Commission outright stated its intent was to make an example of Pochettino’s behavior, out of concern that others “will replicate what they see at the highest level.”
  • The Commission noted Pochettino’s contrite response, immediate apology, willingness to accept the FA’s charges, history of behavior, and first-time offender status, but their mitigation of the punishment still resulted in a two-match ban and a £2k reduction of the fine.

After reading through this report, there is very little in here that makes me think that the punishment leveled at Pochettino is anything but capricious and, to use Pochettino’s word, “unfair.” There are enough inconsistencies between the summarized Dean report contained within this statement and what we could see from video footage to make me think that this has more to do with protecting Dean than it does making sure that any disciplinary action is measured and equitable.

Most jarring is the dichotomy between Dean’s match report and what we saw of the incident, which was caught by TV cameras. Here’s what Dean said about the confrontation.

“At the conclusion of the game I was approached on the field of play by the Tottenham Hotspur head coach Mauricio Pochettino and some members of his coaching staff including First team coach Jesus Perez. Mr Pochettino acted in a very irresponsible and aggresive (sic) manner. He wouldn’t stop saying “you know what you are, you know what you are”. I asked him to explain and he repeated “you know what you are”. I then said on numerous occasions to go away at least 10 times and he wouldn’t get out of my personnel (sic) space and then aggresively (sic) pointed his finger just a few inches from my face again saying “you know what you are”. Mr. Pochettino then left me alone and left the field of play. When I reached the tunnel he was waiting at the top of the stairs again saying “you know what you are” and had to be escorted to the dressing room by security staff from Burnley.”

Now take a look at the incident as it was caught on camera:

It’s difficult to catch everything that was said between the two in this confrontation, which as Dean noted lasted about 40 seconds. What is pretty clear, even if you’re not a professional lip-reader, is that Pochettino did not repeat “You know what you are” repeatedly in this encounter. Also, at no point on pitch did Poch “aggresively (sic) point his finger just a few inches from [his] face again.” Poch was up in his grill, but as noted previously, had turned and was walking away only to turn back around and angrily confront Dean, ostensibly due to something Dean said. This, it should be noted, was not listed in Dean’s account. There is, with near certainty, an audio recording of what was said, as Dean and his assistants are still wearing their headsets. It does not appear as though the audio of Dean’s and Poch’s interaction will ever be released.

There very likely was another incident that took place in the tunnel that was not caught on camera as Dean says in his statement, but Dean’s report puts the greater emphasis on what happened while on the pitch.

Also, the incident seemed to take only Pochettino’s actions into account and not anything Mike Dean may have said to instigate or inflame the incident. Notably absent was Jesus Perez’s role — he can be heard saying “You can’t say that!” to Dean and was nearly as vociferous in his reactions as Pochettino. Perez, however, barely had a mention in Dean’s report, and in the Commission’s statement Dean was clearly portrayed as the victim in the scenario with no hint of impropriety or co-instigation.

Finally, the FA’s report seems to readily admit that Pochettino is catching a harder punishment in order to make an example of him. It’s difficult to reconcile how the FA has treated Poch in comparison to disciplinary incidents involving other managers this season.

I am not attempting to justify Pochettino’s behavior. Pochettino himself said that his reaction to Dean was out of character and that he regretted it deeply. I don’t think any Spurs fans would say that Pochettino did not warrant charges for what happened; even Poch thought so. However, the extent of the punishment surely doesn’t fit the crime, especially considering the mitigating factors of Poch’s past history and Dean’s apparent involvement.

The FA already has a reputation for inconsistent and unfair application of its rules and disciplinary proceedings. This doesn’t help. The whole thing is just farcical and this statement doesn’t do anything to lessen the outrage that Tottenham and its fans are feeling.

There are, at this time, no indications that Spurs plan to appeal the ruling.