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Monday 10 December 2018

Southgate is right to lay it on the line for petulant Alli

Dele Alli in action for England against Holland last Friday
Dele Alli in action for England against Holland last Friday

When Gareth Southgate showed a bit of steel and Dele Alli paid the consequences at international level for any player out of form, he did the job Mauricio Pochettino should have been doing for the last three years.

If Alli is smart, he will be on his very best behaviour for the London derby against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday but I'm not holding my breath.

It's a very big game. Chelsea trail Spurs by five points and badly need the win to reconnect to the race for Champions League football next season.

Antonio Conte has been under ferocious pressure and I don't imagine that has eased during the two-week international break.

Pochettino seems secure enough with Spurs and if anything, is likely to be in demand this summer. I think he has done well so far but if I was one of the big clubs, perhaps scouting for a new manager, I'd be looking closely at the way he has handled Alli.

Big clubs buy big players who usually come with big egos attached and sometimes the manager has to place himself above all of that and take a stand, particularly if the issue is one of ill-discipline.

In short, it would a good idea for Pochettino to back up what the England boss did - by dropping him for Monday's friendly with Italy after 22 ineffectual minutes against Holland the Friday before - with some sharp words of his own for his young star.It would also be a good time for Alli to show he has heeded Southgate's warning and is willing to knuckle down and try to eradicate the many moments of stupidity in his game which make me question his long term well-being at the top.

If he doesn't wise up and listen to what at least some are telling him, he will never reach his potential and that would be a great pity. He can be a great player if he chooses to be.

ASSERTING HIS AUTHORITY: England manager Gareth Southgate
ASSERTING HIS AUTHORITY: England manager Gareth Southgate

I've been pointing out his rashness and petulance for the last few years and pointing to his club manager as the man with the responsibility of showing him the right path but that hasn't happened.

If anything, Pochettino has encouraged his wilfulness by praising him in all circumstances even when he has done very stupid things on a football pitch visible to all.

There was some talk of an injury during the international break but also reports of Southgate laying down the law for Alli and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that it was the England manager and not the Spurs boss saying what needed to be said. According to Pochettino, Alli is "the best Under 21 in the world". Odd then then Southgate didn't fancy him either against Holland or Italy and stuck with Raheem Sterling.

Southgate can afford to hand out some discipline because he is well supplied in Alli's position. Sterling has been doing a decent job and Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Jamie Vardy are pretty fancy alternatives.

Expectation

I have to admit, I wasn't at all impressed by Southgate's first few months. Taking the squad to an Army assault course was gimmicky but this action on Alli is more like real management.

Perhaps he needed to get his feet under the table and make his own rules and if that is so, Southgate is doing well in a low key, low expectation build-up to the World Cup so far. I'm sure that will change as we get closer to the start of Russia 18 but for the moment, Southgate is moving along with no fuss and that has to be admired.

His intervention on Alli could be a career-saver for the lad and showed that he is willing to make a decision, even a tough one.

For Alli, Southgate's message should be a sharp wake-up call. He is still very young and can learn that his recklessness costs his team as well as himself.

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino
Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino

He is a remarkable talent, the brightest I have seen in England for a long, long time and I don't think we are dealing with someone like Mario Balotelli who has a pile of talent but absolutely no discipline or sense of responsibility.

I'm pretty sure Alli would be horrified if he thought that was being compared in those terms but the bottom line is simple.

If he doesn't give up his consistently poor behaviour on the pitch and see it for what it is, a waste of his energy, he risks a reputation as a troublemaker. Balotelli is the extreme end of the road Alli is on at the moment and it is long overdue for Pochettino to recognise this and take some meaningful steps.

Southgate's good advice will be wasted if it is forgotten on the training ground in North London, the place where Alli can find a better role model than Balotelli. Far better.

Harry Kane is kicked as much or more than any other in the Premier League but he never shows petulance. He gets up and plays on, aware that he can do the most damage by scoring goals.

If he's not on the pitch or focuses on the dark side of the game when he is, Alli's usefulness to a manager decreases and that applies to Pochettino just as much as Southgate.

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