Why Tottenham Would Be Wrong to Get Dele Alli to Curb His Aggression

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Why Tottenham Would Be Wrong to Get Dele Alli to Curb His Aggression
Tim Ireland/Associated Press

Dele Alli has been one of the breakout stars of this Premier League season and arguably usurped Ross Barkley as the most exciting rising England star. 

Twelve months ago, Alli was still engaged in driving his boyhood club, MK Dons, to promotion from League 1 to the Championship. 

He is now one of Tottenham's most important players and a virtual certain selection for England at this summer's European Championships. 

Alli's raw footballing ability, first glimpsed by many in the famous 4-0 victory for the Dons against Manchester United in the League Cup, has been harnessed and honed in a truly remarkable debut season in the top flight. 

Alli has won four England caps, is fourth on the list of league assists and needs just three goals to be among the 10 most prolific teenagers in Premier League history. 

There is little doubt in the notion Alli has thrived despite the far more demanding nature and higher-calibre opposition in his first season in the top flight. 

Alastair Grant/Associated Press

He has been rightly showered with praise. Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail argued in January that he should start for England, having demonstrated his capacity for big moments with the wonder goal against Crystal Palace

He has consistently delivered for Spurs and quickly developed into a fan favourite. 

His off-field persona has won him legions of fans with his recent Facebook video of a shopping trip with Eric Dier that was hilarious and charming, while the near-ubiquitous Vine of Alli waving is equally endearing. 

Despite the waves of adoration from his on- and off-field exploits, Alli has been criticised for his occasionally over-the-top outbursts of aggression. 

The most significant of these moments came against Fiorentina in the Europa League when he kicked out at Nenad Tomovic along the byline. 

The referee judged the incident worthy of a yellow card, but Alli could easily have been dismissed from the field for an outburst of violent conduct that appears to be more or less a textbook red card. 

That was the most high-profile incident, but it is not an isolated one. 

Even in Spurs' most recent fixture, a sedate 3-0 win over Bournemouth, Alli clashed with an opposition player at a throw-in.

This streak could be an issue for Alli, but it is important to put it in proper context.  

He has been booked 11 times in 50 appearances in his debut Tottenham season. 

Of Spurs' entire squad, only Dier and Erik Lamela have been cautioned more often. 

He was suspended for the disastrous first-leg defeat to Dortmund in the Europa League for accumulation of bookings.

To be fair to Alli, the caution that activated that suspension was for simulation and not foul play. It was a particularly harsh call too, as Alli appeared to be legitimately fouled. 

Regardless, his absence against Dortmund was at least partly his own doing, and it is fair to say his predilection for dabbling with overly aggressive play has proven costly. 

However, the fact the youngster has not yet been sent off for Tottenham—nor has he even fully earned a suspension—suggests he is capable of sufficient self-control to avoid hurting his team. 

Some of his tendency towards yellow cards can also be explained by the necessity of adapting to the markedly different pace of first-division football. 

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

That fact is borne out by the fact Alli has not been issued a yellow card in domestic football in 2016. 

It is also worth remembering Alli is still a player learning his game. To curtail his development unnecessarily would be to do a disservice to the player and his team. 

Mauricio Pochettino, himself no saint as a player, is right to give his rising star plenty of freedom to express himself on the pitch. 

This is the key to the whole business.

Rather than a malignancy to be excised, Alli's aggression is crucial to what he does well. 

Alli plays with the freedom of youth coupled with the confidence that comes with his manager's total backing.

Never playing within himself, instead Alli tries outlandish things, makes unlikely runs and happily switches position throughout games.

One of his finest attributes is his utter commitment to the pressure Pochettino asks his players to put on the opposition.

Against Watford in December, Alli heroically won the ball to set Erik Lamela away to score the opening goal. 

Heung-Min Son scored the winner that day, but it was Alli's energy that sent Spurs on their way. 

His willingness to chase a seemingly lost cause in the derby against Arsenal gave Harry Kane the chance to score his sensational goal. 

That enthusiasm is linked to Alli's aggression.

Ultimately, he has been a match-winner for Tottenham on multiple occasions and has never been even partially at fault for a defeat.

He has danced close to the line, but there is not yet any reason to restrict his instincts.

This is not a Lee Cattermole-esque situation of a player in desperate need of an adjustment to save a floundering career. 

This is a young player with a tendency towards tempestuousness who appears to know, more or less, where the line is. 

In truth, had he been suspended for the incident against Fiorentina, it would have been fairer than an eventual ban earned for simulation.  

Alli is already a Premier League star, and this summer, he's set to take another step in his development along a career path with no clear limitations.

He could become a truly special player, and his star is rising alongside that of his club. 

Not so long ago, such an effervescent player would have been looking to use Tottenham as a stepping stone to a club capable of winning football's biggest trophies. 

Spurs could be in the process of joining those ranks, and Alli's presence is vital to those aspirations. 

To ask him not to play his natural game would be self-defeating.

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