I suppose it’s a sad day when you set out to talk about one of the English game’s leading lights and straight away you have to make clear which incident potentially earning him a ban you are talking about, but I am convinced there are some positives to take from the gesture Dele Alli made while playing for England against Slovakia.
For a start, he is in the right hands, and I am sure he and manager Gareth Southgate will already have had the conversation.
There was silliness in what he did, not malice, and at the end of the day we really need him playing!
I was at Liverpool when Robbie Fowler controversially mocked snorting part of the penalty area after a goal against Everton. It was the culmination of being tormented unfairly by their fans, but the fire-storm only got worse when Gerard Houllier sought to give some ridiculous excuse to the press afterwards, which no one was going to buy.
While people could claim Alli put Southgate in a similar position and detracted from a good night’s work at Wembley, I would disagree, and it helps that Gareth is closer in age to the players than Gerard was.
What Alli did, and remember it’s more than possible he’s telling the truth about it being aimed at Kyle Walker and not the ref, might not be acceptable, but at least it can be understood by Gareth’s generation, having played himself not all that long ago. There’s more steel to Gareth than meets the eye, which I can tell you from experience.
I’m sure that behind closed doors he has come down hard, because Alli needs to understand there are so many kids out there looking up to him, and these days every camera angle is covered. Gareth also has the communication skills to help nip something like this in the bud when his players clearly have not quite been able to.
There is definitely this edge to Dele; we saw the same thing in Wayne Rooney when he broke into the England side, too. And, unlike the odd mistimed lunge, which can be interpreted as proof of tenacity and desire if you ask me, this kind of nonchalant, premeditated misbehaviour can in fact be curbed with self-control.
What is more, whether FIFA ban him or not, his team-mates might benefit in the long run if they are anything like I was. Rightly or wrongly, it sometimes took a colleague of mine to overstep the mark, particularly with a referee, for me to take a look at myself and how I might be taking too many risks in that department. I often treated the mistakes of others as a kick up the backside for myself.
I’m not saying by any means that the triggering of an investigation into the precise intent behind Alli’s folly could end up as a win-win, when the message it gives to Alli’s impressionable following is clearly all wrong.
However, if we do see him end up being banned by FIFA, that leaves an opportunity for the other players currently vying for his place in what is a relatively commanding position in the qualifying group, and even if he gets let off, I can’t imagine him doing something this stupid again, can you?