Mauricio Pochettino was reminded once again that he has his hands full with the development of Dele Alli after Spurs’ first leg Europa League tie against Fiorentina.
The young midfielder showed the best and worst of his game as Tottenham came away from Florence with a 1-1 draw, and an all-important away goal.
Alli’s famous nutmegs were on display in the first half, but he was also scolded after appearing to kick out at Nenad Tomovic.
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The 19-year-old has a certain aggression about his game that has often earned him a place in the book. It is clear that having spent much of his early days plying his trade in League One with MK Dons, he had become all too familiar with the physicality of that league, something which may need to change now he is playing at the top level.
Pochettino has admitted that whatever plaudits Alli has earned this season, he still has “a lot to learn” after the show of petulance.
Alli was perhaps fortunate to avoid a red card, but in the future he may not be so lucky, and it could end up costing his side.
Aggression or enthusiasm?
The challenge for Pochettino is knowing how to nurture Alli’s enthusiasm and aggression. It should not be discouraged altogether, but it is clear that he still needs to mature as a player.
His willingness to put tough challenges in has earned him some flattering comparisons with Paul Scholes, with some suggestions that he can perform a Scholes-like role in England’s central midfield.
However, his kick on Tomovic also brought back images of David Beckham’s infamous kick on Diego Simeone or Wayne Rooney’s stamp on Cristiano Ronaldo.
If Alli is to avoid going from hero to villain, Pochettino must work on the psychological side of his game, rather than try and prevent him from fighting for the ball.
Spurs must mentor Alli
One of the reasons Tottenham have been so successful this season is that they look far more composed than usual on the ball. This includes Alli, but it is what he does without the ball that must be worked on.
Fortunately, Spurs have more seasoned players such as Toby Alderweireld at their disposal, and Pochettino should pair them up in training to help Alli translate his aggression into positive energy and tempo off the ball. Mentors such as Ledley King are also available at the club to guide the younger players away from such petulant behaviour.
Pochettino must absolutely maintain the physical side to Alli’s game, but if it is not nurtured in the correct way, it could land the youngster in hot water before long.