Tottenham & Dele Alli: Baby steps

There weren’t many conclusions to be drawn from Tottenham’s participation in the Audi Cup and, even though the mini-tournament introduced some of the newer and younger players to the club’s supporters, it would be naive to build too many selection arguments off the back of it.

If there was a take-away detail from Germany, it was probably the performances of the younger players.  Harry Winks showed a few nice touches on the ball, Joshua Onomah improved with every minute he spent on the pitch and, in Dele Alli, Tottenham might just have a precious talent.

Alli is the one who has generated the most excitement - quite understandably.  The internet’s web of Vines has caught and preserved his Luka Modric moment, but his performance against Real Madrid in general was mightily impressive.  He still possesses the delicate physique of a teenager, but Alli’s touch, technique and willingness to be positive with the ball look likely to be worthy additions to Mauricio Pochettino’s future midfield.

That last point - regarding his positivity - sounds very generic and like the kind of banal description which could be applied to almost any player.  It’s not; not only is it very important, but it’s probably the quality which distinguishes him the most.

Having technique is clearly very important.  So much of a player’s ability is defined by his ability to receive the ball properly, that it’s impossible to exist within a Premier League midfield without a good first-touch. What happens after that touch is equally important, though, and that’s really determined by a player’s mentality rather than any technical attribute.

These are the early days of Dele Alli’s Spurs career and nobody yet can conclusively say either what his best position will be or how far in the game he’s capable of going.  At the moment, rather than within the context of entire seasons or matches, he is being assessed on the way he reacts to isolated situations and particular phases of the game.

We know, for example, that his tendency is to be aggressive.  Whilst he’s presumably capable of being conservative in possession, his default instinct appears to be more pro-active and dynamic; he wants to drive with the ball, he craves the responsibility of changing the momentum.

That - in a young English player especially - is priceless.  Subsequently, it’s also the very thing that Tottenham need to be vigilant in protecting.

Because of how he played in Germany, there will be momentum for him to start at Old Trafford on Saturday. That’s quite reasonable, too; Pochettino has created a meritocracy within his squad and Alli is performing to a high level.

Why he shouldn’t he play?

The situation demands patience, though, because while Alli’s technical ability is permanent, his positive approach to the game is theoretically temporary.  So, as tempting as it must be for Pochettino to start him against Manchester United, there must be due consideration for what a negative experience might do to his state of mind.

Some players are impervious to those sorts of situations and are completely unfazed by famous opponents and big crowds.  Alli might be one of them; maybe he’s the kind of character who can enjoy such an occasion for what it is, treat it as part of his education, and not be adversely effected by anything he encounters.

Maybe Alli would relish the opportunity to play against some of those Manchester United players and maybe, if he was to give the ball away at the wrong time and in the wrong area, his belief in his own ability would be unmoved.

Maybe.

But, given that there is no time-pressure on his first-team involvement and that Tottenham have a batch of Europa League and Capital One Cup games on the horizon, the sensible approach would probably be to allow him a soft-landing and for him to make his first Tottenham steps in an environment in which mistakes can be made without serious repercussions.

There’s nothing wrong with a slow-build and no talented player has ever suffered from being gently and carefully exposed to the top-level. When patient, structured method is applied, bad things rarely happen.

A young player is delicate and his state of mind is often equally so; Tottenham’s priority should be the next ten years of Dele Alli’s career, not the first few weeks.