Tottenham Hotspur’s Dele Alli can take the 2016 European Championships by storm just like Wayne Rooney did in 2004.
The 18-year-old Everton striker was seen as a wildcard at the time and Alli is definitely a wildcard now. In fact, the 20-year-old’s rise has been so meteoric that he has not made the official Panini sticker album for the tournament.
It would only have been a few years ago that Alli was collecting football stickers himself and, although his personal hero is Steven Gerrard, it is his fellow-Scouser Rooney whom he most resembles.
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In his first season at Spurs, Alli announced himself with a wonder goal at Crystal Palace in the same way that Rooney introduced himself to the Premier League with his debut goal against Arsenal in 2002.
At the time, the BBC’s Garth Crooks included Alli in his ‘team of the week’ and wrote: "Well, I've seen some glorious goals scored in my time watching football matches but I doubt whether I will see a goal scored with such individual flair, and by a 19-year-old, as Dele Alli's goal at
Selhurst Park - it was sheer class."
With Neymar having scored a similar goal for Barcelona two months before, a star was born and the whole of Europe stood up and took notice.
On the negative side, another similarity with Rooney is the short temper. It is a bit harsh to suggest that Alli’s punch to Claudio Yacob’s stomach against West Brom and the subsequent three-game ban cost Spurs their chance of the Premier League title, but that type of accusation comes with the territory.
Despite the question marks over his temperament, it was Rooney’s performances at Euro 2004 that caught the imagination and persuaded Sir Alex Ferguson to pay £25.6 million to take him to Manchester United. He ran the France, Switzerland, and Croatia defences ragged in the first three games, scoring four goals before an injury against Portugal in the quarter-final robbed the tournament of a Hollywood ending.
With Spurs pushing Leicester City so close to the title, Alli will have no immediate need to leave White Hart Lane in order to further his ambition. The midfielder could and should stay with Spurs along with Harry Kane and the two should take their outrageous talents into the Champions League next season.
It was in the Champions League that ex-Spurs forward Gareth Bale made his reputation, enabling the Welshman to bypass the traditional Old Trafford route taken by David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo and head straight to Real Madrid. Alli is certainly talented enough to do the same and with Wales drawn in England’s Euro 2016 group, it certainly gives the Milton-Keynes born star a chance to ask for directions.
It is a testament to his prodigious progress that Alli is almost a nailed-on starter for England’s opening match against Russia on June 11. The fact Panini had not heard of him could yet be an advantage if the opposition underestimates the 20-year-old in the same way.