The hid­den depths of Alli’s won­der strike

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE - By Jonathan Liew at Sel­hurst Park

By the end of Satur­day, it is a fair bet that any­one in the world with even a pass­ing in­ter­est in see­ing Dele Alli’s goal against Crys­tal Palace had done. The videos were ping­ing across the world within sec­onds, de­spite the ef­forts of the Premier League’s copy­right depart­ment.

Match of the Day showed it 12 times. The pe­cu­liar in­ter­net cot­tage in­dus­try that con­sists of find­ing un­usual things and pair­ing them with a sen­sa­tional head­line went into over­drive: “Tor des Jahres!” (Goal of the year, Ger­many). “Se­mua Puji Gol!” (All praise the goal, Indo

ne­sia). “Goal d’ex­trater­restre!” (Outof-this-world goal, France).

Less than 48 hours af­ter the ball hit the net, Alli’s goal was no longer a fresh ex­pe­ri­ence but an os­si­fied fact, a thing that hap­pened once.

This has con­se­quences. Not only does the ini­tial in­cred­u­lous re­ac­tion give way to a pre­ma­ture en­nui, but it shears Alli’s goal from its wider con­text. The temp­ta­tion is to see those four sec­onds purely as an out­ra­geous piece of skill, a mo­ment of ge­nius: a bolt from the blue that will launch Alli as a global star, the fu­ture of English foot­ball, and so on.

When he goes through a rough patch, as 19-year-olds inevitably do, it will be held as ev­i­dence of his in­ex­orable de­cline. The point is not to play down what was clearly a won­der­ful goal, nor to un­der­state Alli’s im­mense gifts. But even the most ex­plo­sive of achieve­ments have a gen­e­sis, a ges­ta­tion. Alli’s goal did not come out of noth­ing. So from where did it come?

Well, ev­i­dently you need some tal­ent, and Alli’s was ev­i­dent from the mo­ment he made his pro­fes­sional de­but for MK Dons at the age of 16, scor­ing a 25-yard screamer. But tal­ent is not enough, as Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino ex­plained. “It’s a com­bi­na­tion,” the Tot­ten­ham head coach said. “It’s im­pos­si­ble to have qual­ity and not a good men­tal­ity. This is the com­bi­na­tion that makes a great player like Dele Alli.”

At Tot­ten­ham they will tell you that Alli is one of the club’s hard­est work­ers and fittest play­ers. His goal came af­ter 84 min­utes of solid run- ning against a Palace de­fence that had scarcely budged all game.

Yet he still had the ath­leti­cism to be in the right place, the agility to wrig­gle past Mile Je­d­i­nak, the strength to strike the ball with suf­fi­cient pace to beat the goal­keeper. None of this is any ac­ci­dent. But even that is not enough.

Tal­ent and ded­i­ca­tion are all very well, but you need a stage on which to per­form. You need a club that looks af­ter young play­ers and a coach who trusts them fully. What other club of Tot­ten­ham’s size would give a teenage mid­fielder 30 games be­fore the end of Jan­uary?

But even that is not enough. You need a cul­ture where young play­ers are en­cour­aged to try such things, even at crit­i­cal mo­ments. Would Alli have had the mind­set to do what he did if he were at rel­e­ga­tion­threat­ened As­ton Villa, or Louis van Gaal’s Manch­ester United?

“We try to in­spire the play­ers, and push them to do what­ever they want,” Po­chet­tino said. “They have the nat­u­ral skills to, and you need to show a pro­fes­sional side, but you can­not stop the qual­ity they have.”

Then you need a pin­point Harry Kane cross, Chris­tian Erik­sen to cush­ion his header per­fectly and Scott Dann not to block the shot. If any one of a thou­sand things go wrong, that goal does not get scored. That, surely, is what makes foot­ball a far richer game than a four-se­cond video can ever con­vey.

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