Mauricio Pochettino would have had no problem with Kevin Friend taking charge of Tottenham’s crunch clash with Stoke City, despite the official’s links to Premier League title rivals Leicester City.
Friend was originally designated to officiate Monday’s match at the Britannia Stadium, only for Premier Game Match Officials Ltd to remove him and appoint Neil Swarbrick.
The organisation said the move was designed to avoid any “extra scrutiny on the refereeing appointment”, with Friend having previously attended Leicester matches in a personal capacity.
But Pochettino said: “We never complain and I want to say we trust in all the referees. The decision maybe is difficult to understand for all the people, but it wasn’t our decision.
“If Kevin was the referee on Monday I was happy, it is not a problem, but sometimes this type of situation happens – but I trust in all the referees.”
Arsenal counterpart Arsene Wenger had earlier been unequivocal in his response to the decision.
“I am completely against it,” he said.
“The referees are professional and you have to be impartial. I have always been against the rule.
“Social media does not dictate what happens. People have the responsibility to make the decision and I am very surprised.”
Pochettino responded: “It is difficult for me because I have not managed very well the language and I don’t want to make a mistake if I speak too much – but in some points I agree with Arsene. It is important to keep the integrity of the ref and always back the referee.
“They are human and can make mistakes, like us, but it is important for the next time to behave naturally and to show the referee the trust and respect. Then whatever happens in the game, on the pitch, we are human and can make mistakes, and not because something is behind [it].”
Spurs sit seven points adrift of leaders Leicester, though that gap could have widened before kick-off at Stoke as Claudio Ranieri’s men host West Ham on Sunday.
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