As many of his odes to Claudio Bravo illustrate, Pep Guardiola has a capacity to produce exaggerated tributes in unlikely circumstances. He did it again on Wednesday. Dele Alli, he pronounced, “is one of the most fantastic players I have ever seen in my life”.
So said the old team-mate of Ronaldo, Romario, Rivaldo, Hristo Stoichkov, Ronald Koeman and Michael Laudrup and the former manager of Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o, Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robert Lewandowski, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and phalanxes of Spanish and German World Cup winners. After the praise, however, came the pertinent part.
“But Manchester City doesn't want Dele Alli,” the Catalan added. The double PFA Young Player of the Year, Guardiola announced, would stay at Tottenham. With Real Madrid apparently admirers of Alli, that is not just up to him, but Spurs should hope the City manager is right.
Alli has become emblematic of the new Tottenham: young, English, potent, fearless, getting better by the year. There are reasons to argue his progress has been so swift that he has replaced Harry Kane, a comparative veteran of 23, as the face of the club. Selling Alli would bring in a windfall and send out a statement. Tottenham would be a selling club again.
The vehemence of the reaction from White Hart Lane to rumours was telling. Mauricio Pochettino breached one of football’s 10 commandments – thou shalt not criticise Xavi – with a verbal attack on a passing purist when the former Barcelona midfielder reportedly said Guardiola wanted Alli, although the Spaniard denied an interview ever took place.
He highlighted a broader issue. Manchester United have shown an interest in Kane in the past, as City have done in Danny Rose. Both full-backs have reportedly attracted attention at the Etihad Stadium now. It is frankly surprising Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld have not already drawn bids. Tottenham are in a division with five potentially bigger spenders. They could be prey for predators.
They were before. Their tactic was to strike the best deal, regardless of the on-field cost. Martin Jol always lamented the 2006 sale of Michael Carrick which, in hindsight, was the beginning of the end for the Dutchman. Juande Ramos claimed he told Tottenham it was too risky to sell Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov in 2008; eight games and two points later, he was sacked. Andre Villas-Boas and Damien Comolli may have been able to go on a £110 million spending spree when Gareth Bale was auctioned in 2013 but too few of the arrivals impressed, the Welshman was missed and the Portuguese was dismissed in December.
Pochettino has taken Tottenham further and faster than any of those three predecessors. The same fate does not beckon for him. Yet Spurs’ position is perilous in other respects if they alter a winning formula. Funds are limited because of the rebuilding of White Hart Lane. They will not have the same margin of error in the transfer market as Chelsea or the Manchester clubs.
Read the full article on eurosport.co.uk: Sell Alli and Tottenham will forever be cursed with ‘finishing school’ tag