Heart Of Football

Alli still has to earn his Spurs after England goal


When Dele Alli pulls on the No. 20 shirt of Tottenham Hotspur this afternoon, he reverts to reality.

Tuesday night at Wembley Stadium, with its surreal atmosphere and his extraordinary debut capped by a spectacular goal for England, is behind him now.

We cannot, and should not, take away from the 19-year-old that he has scored a handsome international goal that many aspire to, and few achieve.

However, Alli will know - and lest he forgets, his club manager Mauricio Pochettino will remind him this evening - that the England opportunity came because of the form he has sustained thus far in his first season as a Premier League player.

The French, by their own admission, were compliant and subdued on Tuesday. West Ham, fighting with Spurs for a place in the Premier League's top four, will be anything but.

Even through the looking glass of youth, Alli must know that Tuesday was not an experience he will encounter often in life. The French were there in body, - but not in mind.

Alli will be a marked man in the Tottenham midfield because he has earned that attention by the opposition.

On Tuesday, his forceful, but fair, tackles dispossessed two of France's strongest men. The 1.88m-tall English youth (of Nigerian descent) crunched Manchester United's experienced Frenchman, Morgan Schneiderlin, off the ball before hitting a 30m, right-footed shot past his Tottenham captain, Hugo Lloris, into the far top corner.

Later, Alli overpowered an even mightier Frenchman, Paul Pogba, to begin the move for Wayne Rooney's goal.

Two-nil to England, and everyone is singing the name of the Spurs starlet.

"It's one of those crazy moments," he said afterwards on television. "I'm sure I'll think about it, a lot. Right now, words can't describe the feeling - it's a proud moment but I know that I've got to get my main focus back to Tottenham."

Even through the looking glass of youth, Alli must know that Tuesday was not an experience he will encounter often in life.

The French were there in body, but not in mind. Their spirit had been drained by the terrorism that brought death to the gates of the stadium at St Denis while they played against Germany, and the terrible carnage in Paris 61/2km away.

France's players spent that night in the dressing room area with the frightened Germans, and were told that even though one player, Lassana Diarra, lost a cousin in the hail of bullets, their duty was to play at Wembley four nights later.

They did it, even Diarra.

But as Lloris said: "We lacked aggressiveness and concentration, it was to be expected."

As Didier Deschamps, the French coach, said: "There was a sporting dimension to the fixture tonight. We were up for it but the human aspect was bigger."

Of course, it was, for everyone.

England, fielding their youngest team since 1959, took full advantage and played some encouraging football. But the tempo of the French was tepid, their hearts were elsewhere.

It is back to normality for Bamidele Jermaine "Dele" Alli today.

His rise has been rapid since signing for Spurs on Feb 2. He was promptly loaned back to Milton Keynes Dons, the lower division club he had joined as an 11-year-old and debuted as a first-teamer at 16.

This arrangement, Tottenham putting down a £5 million (S$10.7 million) initial fee but then allowing the starlet to see out his season with the Dons, was sensible.

It meant that Alli kept the continuity of playing competitive football week in, week out, rather than make do with occasional cameo appearances in the Tottenham line-up.

Compare it to the way that Ruben Loftus-Cheek, also 19, gets the odd game at Chelsea and then gets put, at best, on the bench because of the pressure for places with the likes of Ramires, Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Vidic.

Look at Pogba, who went abroad rather than stay as a Manchester United reserve when Alex Ferguson was the manager.

Even look at Arsenal's huge competition for midfield places.

A growing Alli would get a decent education there, and his combination of strength and passing would appeal to the Monsieur.

But he knew, and Arsenal knew, that the boy from Milton Keynes, 80km away, would rarely break through during what is still his apprenticeship.

Spurs are a different matter.

Like Everton, a club of similar stature who promote Ross Barkley and John Stones (and before them, Rooney), Tottenham fast-track English talent.

True, an Argentinian, Pochettino, coaches Tottenham and a Spaniard, Roberto Martinez, guides Everton.

And equally true, if Alli and Barkley grow consistently in the Premier League, they will, as Stones already has, be the subject of massive transfer bids by Chelsea, Manchester City and the like.

So if you have leanings towards Spurs, have trust in Alli. His must be to put his England cap in the cabinet, and get down to fighting for the ball and expressing himself the way Pochettino wants.

The opponents will not be passive.

West Ham have one of the best away records in the EPL, though their key creator, Dimitri Payet, is out for months after a violent tackle.

Manuel Lanzini might instead be the player for Alli to mark though Cheikhou Kouyate is the ball winner in claret and blue.

However, you may know that when Alli was growing at Milton Keynes (particularly when he masterminded the 4-0 destruction of United in the League Cup last year), there was another club whom both the player and the Dons manager coveted.

The manager, Karl Robinson, is a Liverpudlian who cut his coaching teeth at the Reds' academy.

He kept saying that Alli reminded him of a young Steven Gerrard.

Alli told enough reporters that Gerrard was his idol, and that Liverpool had inspired him ever since the Champions League victory in Istanbul in 2005.

Liverpool knew all this.

Their scout rated Alli highly and their recently fired manager Brendan Rodgers received regular reports from Robinson.

Why is Alli a Spur and not a Red?

The Americans on the transfer committee at Anfield decided that £5 million did not represent value for money.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 22, 2015, with the headline 'Alli still has to earn his Spurs after England goal'. Subscribe