Dele Alli, the best player for his age in world football?

Mauricio Pochettino seems to think so. Spurs face Swansea on Sunday in the FA Cup

 Tottenham’s Dele Alli has been the league’s best young player for the past two seasons. Photograph: Reuters

Tottenham’s Dele Alli has been the league’s best young player for the past two seasons. Photograph: Reuters

 

Mauricio Pochettino has acclaimed Dele Alli as the best player for his age in world football. The Tottenham manager betrayed an element of frustration when asked whether Alli – who turns 22 next month – needs to step up in the injury-enforced absence of the club’s talisman, Harry Kane.

Pochettino preferred to talk up Alli’s quality and offer a reminder of what the attacking midfielder has achieved. He has been voted as the PFA’s young player of the year in each of his two full seasons at Spurs following his £5m move from MK Dons in 2015, and has established himself as a first choice in the England team.

“When you compare Dele Alli, 21 years old, with all the players in the world – not only in Europe, in the world – I think he is the best,” Pochettino said. “In his age. In his form. Assists and everything. But, and I don’t understand why, there is still that feeling [to criticise him].

“Tell me one 21-year-old that is better than him, and all that he achieves. Maybe you can find similar. But better than him? Maybe I am not objective because he is my player but, for me, he is amazing.”

Alli, who scored 22 goals in all competitions for Tottenham last season, has 10 this time, including two in the 3-1 Champions League win over Real Madrid last November. There have been times this season when his form has been erratic, however.

Pochettino’s hyperbole invited the comparison between Alli and some of the game’s other stellar talents in his age bracket. How does he measure up, for example, to Manchester City’s Leroy Sané, who turned 22 in January?

“Yes, but this season,” Pochettino said, with reference to Sané. “Last season? Who was the best? Dele, no? The question [about whether he should do more] – I’m a little bit: ‘Wow.’ We expect more from him? Well, we always want more but from the day that he makes his debut for us, he is one of the best in the world. I promise you that I am the most critical person with my players. But it is difficult to criticise Dele.”

Pochettino suggested that Alli, who felt tightness in his groin at Bournemouth on Sunday, may not start Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final at Swansea City. “We will see because he’s going to play for the national team [in the upcoming friendlies] and players are not machines,” Pochettino said.

Kane damaged ankle ligaments at Bournemouth; the expectation at the club is that he will miss about four weeks. “Of course it’s not a long-term injury, it’s easier to keep your form and that helps you to be fit quicker when you fix your problem,” Pochettino said. “Harry put his leg in the washing machine for the team. Maybe another player says, ‘I’m not going to take that risk.’ But he’s a warrior.

“We are going to miss Harry because it’s obvious that he is one of the best. But we are calm and relaxed because we have enough quality to win games. It’s not an excuse for us that Harry is now out for a few weeks.”

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