Tottenham: Never change, Dele Alli

Even referring to what Alli did last night as an 'incident' blows it out of proportion.

Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli once more found himself at the centre of a storm of controversy after cameras caught him raising a middle finger and gesturing towards French referee Clement Turpin during England’s 2-1 victory over Slovakia at Wembley, moments after he had been denied a free-kick after a challenge from Martin Skrtel.

An incident now branded “obscene,” Alli took to Twitter to apologise for his action, explaining that it was good-natured gesture meant for former Spurs teammate Kyle Walker, a claim supported by England boss Gareth Southgate.

"Dele and Kyle were mucking about and Dele made a gesture towards Kyle,” Southgate told reporters in his post-match press conference… They have a strange way of communicating but that’s what they’ve said when I raised it."

As of yet, no official investigation has been opened, but FIFA are “gathering evidence” before deciding whether to punish Alli with a formal ban.

Has football gone too far?

Presumably, FIFA are attempting to discern whether Alli was gesturing towards the referee or not, but if they reach the conclusion it was meaningless and directed at teammate Walker, surely they wouldn’t feel the need to punish him for it?

I understand the need to emphasise respect for referees and Alli would have crossed a boundary if that were the case and to do so that blatantly is sheer stupidity more than anything, but the other side of the coin suggests FIFA need a sense of humour.

“He is a young expressive guy who is trying to get to the peak of his game and sometimes he is going to do things that not everyone is going to agree with. I think we all know what has gone on- no-one has got hurt from it, let’s be honest.” -Joe Hart on the Alli incident.

If this was, as Alli describes, a means of mocking Walker or something along those lines, then is any further action entirely necessary once that conclusion has been reached?

The midfielder is 21-years-old. He’s a young adult on the pitch playing football with his friends, that’s what the sport boils down to. Perhaps it’s important to bear that in mind.

The world is watching

Joe Hart made a valid point in the aftermath of this incident, if it even deserves that sort of extreme label, that “the world is watching” and I agree.

Alli, despite his youth, is a role model for many younger kids around the country and perhaps even the globe. These children will watch him closer, analysing what he does and attempting to imitate his actions, both on and off the ball.

Kids will do anything to be like their idols.

In this respect, therefore, what Alli did was stupid in the sense of how blatant he made it, right in front of the cameras for the on-looking world to see. Without punishment, there’s a chance impressionable youngsters feel it’s okay to disrespect officials and their own teammate in this way.

“Kids are watching,” Hart continued. “Dele appreciates that…”

Never change, but be more subtle

Perhaps what Alli needs to address is his timing and approach to subtly. Having a laugh on the pitch with your teammates is perfectly acceptable, but there’s a time and a place for everything.

With cameras trained on you and the referee in your line of sight is arguably not the best place to gesture to Walker with a middle finger.

What I don’t want to see, however, is Alli changing his nature. All the best players in the world have that something special and unique about them, an edge to their game that makes them difficult to play against. Not only is Alli supremely talented, but he’s mischievous.

For instance, in Spurs’ 2-0 opening day victory at Newcastle, it was Alli’s reaction to Jonjo Shelvey’s foul that got the latter sent off for stamping on his victim.

It was the 21-year-old’s mischief with the ball that provoked the incident, earning a man advantage for his side and the consequent disapproval and boos of the Newcastle fans.

There’s a fire in his belly and a slight temper to his game. As long as he knows when and how to use and control said temper, I’ve got no issues with this behaviour continuing.

The best of the best know how to use every one of their attributes to their advantage, even perceived disadvantages. Alli certainly does.

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Oli Stein


Oli graduated from the University of Bristol with a degree in History and has worked with RealSport since September 2016.

Currently assistant football editor and Tottenham correspondent.

Follow him on Twitter: @steinoliver_