Spurs boss: Dele Alli’s ‘naughty’ streak is a key part of his game
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Mauricio Pochettino says Dele Alli’s “naughty” streak is a key part of his game, and the Tottenham manager is pleased to see the 20-year-old taking centre stage again.
Alli dived to win a penalty in Saturday’s victory over Swansea, and he then angered CSKA Moscow’s players during Wednesday’s Champions League triumph.
The visitors sportingly kicked the ball out of play when Alli got a knock on his ankle, and the youngster ‘returned’ the ball to the goalkeeper with a lob which dropped just over the crossbar.
But Pochettino is unconcerned by such incidents. Indeed, given Alli scored for the first time in nine appearances against CSKA, he sees them as evidence that the young midfielder is getting back to his best.
“He promised to me he wanted to shoot the ball away,” said the Spurs manager. “It was close, but he promised to me he wasn’t trying to score.
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“You don’t want him to cross the line but this is a little bit his identity - it’s who is he. Dele Alli is Dele Alli because he’s a little bit naughty. It’s his character, in a good way.
“He’s a brilliant boy. He has a brilliant brain, he’s very smart. He’s very sensitive, very intuitive and because he comes from a difficult background you can understand [it], when you’re with him. But he’s a very nice person off the pitch.”
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Alli hinted at some family issues at the start of the season when he announced he would be wearing ‘Dele’ on the back of his shirt because he felt he had “no connection with the Alli surname”.
His form since then has largely reflected that of the Tottenham team as a whole. He scored in the impressive victories over Stoke and Manchester City, but Spurs then lost form – winning just one of their next 10 games – and Alli only managed one goal in that period, while he seemed uncharacteristically subdued in general.
Now it is a different story, though. Pochettino’s side have scored eight goals in their back-to-back victories over Swansea and CSKA, and Alli ended his dry run on Wednesday night by netting once and also forcing an own goal from Igor Akinfeev.
“I think he was struggling a little bit with some problems,” said Pochettino. “They were small but they can affect your game, and now he is recovering his form, which is important for the team - and we are improving as a collective because Harry Kane is much better and now Toby [Alderweireld] is back again. Ben Davies is back too - different players - and when we are together we feel that we can beat everyone.
“The worst moment was Monaco away (the 2-1 defeat that ended Tottenham’s hopes of reaching the knockout stages of the Champions League).
“That was tough, because we had some small problems. It was the toughest moment but, from then, we started to build our confidence and belief again.
“I think we showed against Chelsea that we deserved more in the end. We got nothing but you could start to feel the answer of the team.
“We improved in our performance, quality and fitness, and then against Swansea and CSKA we showed that we’ve started to react and play in a similar way to before, up to the Manchester City game.”
Tottenham travel to Old Trafford to face Manchester United on Sunday, and Pochettino is full of praise for his opposing manager Jose Mourinho, who he first faced when the pair were managing Espanyol and Real Madrid respectively.
“You can be inspired by different mangers – [Sir Alex] Ferguson, [Pep] Guardiola, [Jose Mourinho] or [Marcelo] Bielsa,” said Pochettino.
“I think it’s about your philosophy on the pitch, off the pitch, how you coach your team - you can be inspired by different managers and I admire him a lot.
“He’s achieved things in different countries at different clubs - he’s a big champion. He’s the Special One because he deserves to be called that. Just because he’s in a period now where maybe he needs time to improve and settle his ideas, it doesn’t change my image of him.
“I was lucky to meet him when I started my career in Espanol, it was a great experience for me that he opened his door.
“Now when a young manager starts his career and wants to talk with you and see how you work, that inspired me to open the door to younger coaches. It’s important, that moment helped me a lot.
“It’s important when you start your career that some people tell you the truth about what to expect – ‘to be a manager, don’t believe it will be easy, some problems will come’. He’s always direct and honest, you can see that, and I like that.
“You can learn from everyone. The best quality when people want to be a manager is to be open to learn every day. If you are open to learn then you can learn to be better. You can learn from everyone. You can be inspired by different people, from people on the street.
“The TV can reflect behaviour in you and the people have to make a mark. All I can tell you is that Mourinho is a very honest professional and I like him a lot.”
Mourinho has criticised his own United players at times, whereas Pochettino rarely admonishes his charges in public.
But the Argentinian said: “You cannot compare Mourinho with me. Mourinho is on the top, I am behind. He’s in a different moment in his career.
“Maybe I hope one day to win the same titles as him - and maybe I will start to criticise the players in that moment!”
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs