Wednesday 21 August 2019

Glorious nights at Wembley can sustain Alli on path to true greatness his talent can achieve

Deli Alli scores against Real Madrid. Photo: PA
Deli Alli scores against Real Madrid. Photo: PA

Paul Hayward

If Dele Alli has looked a distracted soul of late, there could be no better concentration-sharpener than two goals against Real Madrid at Wembley. You could pick holes in his passing and sometimes unconvincing trickery but not the role he played in a stunning victory by Tottenham Hotspur.

Goals at this level possess an indelible glamour - even the deflected ones, such as Alli's second, off the legs of Sergio Ramos.

Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino. Photo: PA
Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino. Photo: PA

However, the rest of his season pans out, Tottenham's young No 20 will always have this night to sustain him.

Alli started badly, scored, improved, scored again and then displayed his true potential with a midfield turn, surge and pass to Harry Kane, who set up Christian Eriksen for Tottenham's third.

By now, Alli had left behind the over-elaboration and loose passing to which he fell in the opening exchanges.

His part in the Eriksen goal had everything his admirers have always said he possesses: balance, strength, turning ability and the eye and the boot to deliver a sweetly-weighted, chance-creating pass.

A triumphant return, then, for a player whose manager felt moved to say, on the eve of this contest: "He is motivated now. His internal motivation is higher now to try to compete at his best level. I am not worried about him.

"I think he needs to enjoy playing football. He will show his character and personality like he did against Manchester United (at the weekend). I think he is calm. He feels (it) too, because he is disappointed with himself that he's not at his best but it's coming. Like the winter is coming."

Winter came to Real Madrid, all right. It frosted over their amazing 30-game unbeaten run in Champions League group games, and snowed on their aura.

Eight points behind Barcelona in La Liga, they were also a long way behind Spurs here. This was a defining win for Mauricio Pochettino, their manager, and a humiliating blow for Real's Zinedine Zidane, whose seat he might one day fill.

Pochettino has doled out some tough love, of course, to Alli, who was dispossessed too easily in the first-half hour, and was off-target with most of his killer passes. But the smoothness of Tottenham's move for their opening goal helped him relax, and stop trying too hard. Until that prod of a boot at the end of a grand attack, 26 minutes in, England's most promising young midfielder had been trying desperately to allay concerns about his form and frame of mind.

Pushed up with Harry Kane as a second striker, Alli was bound to feel the heat of scrutiny after his apparent loss of focus, disquieting comments by Pochettino and more personal indiscipline on the field.

Alli, we all know, goes down too easily, but he could he get back up, against Europe's champions, after his self-inflicted absence from Champions League Group H?

In Madrid and here in London, Spurs rose to the challenge of top-grade combat. They were undaunted and persistent in Spain - and adventurous and confident at home.

This is a team going places, despite the weekend's defeat at Manchester United. Surely Tottenham's owners can see the opportunity they have been given: to keep this side together, and to add more layers, just as the builders are doing at the new White Hart Lane.

Alli needs to stay with the programme, and this was the best test yet of his ability to move among royalty.

He came through that trial, despite making a hash of a hat-trick opportunity with a glancing header.

It was the way he grew into the game and cooled his brain that will stay in the memory.

To get to the crux, Alli was theoretically born for this level. Born to be fancied by Europe's biggest clubs - Real Madrid included - born to keep improving and progressing.

He was also born 21 years ago, which makes him a novice in this echelon. But while youth is a consideration when assessing his contribution to Tottenham's steady rise, the problems he creates so regularly for himself are less easy to overlook.

Alli was making only his seventh Champions League appearance and his 18th in European competition. And this was his first since a three-match ban for a ridiculous challenge on Gent's Brecht Dejaegere in the 3-2 Europa League defeat here in February.

Since then, Alli has also picked up a one-match ban from Fifa for raising a finger at his England team-mate Kyle Walker in a World Cup qualifier against Slovakia in September.

Only last weekend, Alli was "clashing" with Ashley Young and diving over the withdrawn boot of Phil Jones, at Old Trafford. Pochettino has lectured him before about diving.

"This type of action doesn't help him, doesn't help the team and doesn't help football," he has said, while also expressing coded concern about his decision to change agents.

All these doubts receded, as Alli began to comprehend the benefits of being in full control of what really counts: his ability, his skill. He belongs in these games, not in a sin bin. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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