Saturday, 11 February 2017

Tottenham's Dele Alli ready to push on

Dele Alli was rightly praised for his low-key reaction when Victor Valdes shoved him in the face but, as far as Tottenham are concerned, that's not the half of it. 

Pundits, journos and fans all hailed the 20-year-old for refusing to lash out at the Middlesbrough keeper, completing his journey from "hot-headed kid" to "level-headed young man".

But to laud Dele so highly just for behaving in the right manner loses sight of something far more important to Spurs and, hopefully, to English football.

The midfielder's performance against Middlesbrough capped a few months that demonstrate his understanding of the game is developing every bit as quickly as his temperament.

Quite how the Middlesbrough keeper escaped a ban for such a blatant show of tactical aggression is difficult to comprehend. 

An elder statesman of the game with bags of experience, former Barcelona and Manchester United keeper Valdes, 35, knew exactly what he was doing by taking aim at the player he will have seen as most likely to retaliate.

But it all plays into the rhetoric of just how ready Dele Alli is to push on.

We already knew about the explosive finishing, the eye for a pass and his ability to do something out of the ordinary.

But add to that Dele's awareness, desire to find dangerous space - with and without the ball - as well as his willingness to drop deep for possession, he is now beginning to control the whole flow of a game.

For long periods last season the midfielder had looked a bit of a time bomb. Precocious but precarious. Undeniably talented but always skirting a fine line that ultimately led to suspension when he met West Brom and Claudio Yacob. 

In all likelihood, it is not the last we have seen of his dangerous flip side because, as is so often pointed out, iron out that “naughtiness" (as Mauricio Pochettino calls it) and you invariably lose some of the genius. 

But in recent weeks Dele has been nothing short of a joy to watch and it is having a positive effect on everyone around him - team-mates and fans.

Against Aston Villa he came off the bench and was a shot in the arm to a young team struggling to find a breakthrough. Coming off the back of two headed goals in the 2-0 win over Chelsea, you half expected him to go looking for glory himself. 

But instead he just served to up the ante immediately, boosting the support, bringing in players who needed a touch and playing a key role in Ben Davies' opener.

Against Middlesbrough we may have struggled to get over the line - ultimately needing a penalty to win the match 1-0 - but anyone who watched it will confirm that Dele Alli was outstanding. 

First, early on, he nicked the ball deep from Boro's midfield, surging forward to set up Heung-Min Son in acres of space. And before the break he teamed up with Christian Eriksen to run onto a seemingly impossible through ball and nearly finish at the near post. 

If I'm banging on about it, it's simply because there is a lot to say. And it is easy to forget that Dele, still just 20, is only in his second season at White Hart Lane and fourth as a senior pro. 

Have a look back through the YouTube videos - the skills, the deft touches and the way he tends to shift the ball past one opponent before nicking it out the way of another - and and you'll watch him in a different light the next time around. 

His quick feet, the driving runs, the positive attitude. This is a guy who runs with his head up - like we were all taught at school, but nobody could really master - taking in everything. 

He also does the business when really needed - just look at his comeback-inspiring goals against Wycombe and Manchester City.

At times he has the spontaneity of Gazza, the excitement of Gareth Bale, or the professor-like wisdom of Dimitar Berbatov. Oddly he still manages to bring something different to all of the above. 

At Spurs we are privileged to have seen those guys at close quarters, week-in week-out, however brief it was. But at the moment, Dele Alli looks like he has all the ingredients to eclipse all three.

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