Deli Alli’s recent resurgence highlights the importance of man management in football

Dele Alli started for Spurs against Wolves on Sunday and played with the sort of joy and enthusiasm that he was clearly lacking under Jose Mourinho. It made me to wonder why it was only his fifth league start of the season.

Alli is such a talented player, a creator as well as a goalscorer. The 25 year old was a huge part of the Spurs team that finished third, second, third then fourth in consecutive seasons between 2016 and 2019 as well as reaching a Champions League Final.

During that period he also played a staring role for England in the 2018 World Cup, getting his name on the scoresheet in the quarter final win over Sweden. That tournament helped Alli enhance his reputation as being one of the best young midfielders in the world.

No-one could have predicted quite how rapidly his stock would fall. Under Mourinho he not only lost his spot in the Tottenham side but failed to make the matchday squad on several occasions and saw his international career grind to a sudden halt.

Alli is clearly a talent and a football coach has a responsibility to get the best out of every player both individually and collectively within the squad. Man management is key and not every player can be managed the same way.

During the two year UEFA Pro License course I majored on skills such as managing up the chain dealing with the expectations of senior players, staff, the media and all the stakeholders in a football club including, of course, the fans,

Football is a results business and had Jose Mourinho got the results he wanted and the results Daniel Levy expected when appointing him then the decision to sideline Deli Alli might have avoided close scrutiny. But things did not work out and a parting of the ways has given Alli a new lease of life.

Mourinho’s methods did not seem to work with Dele Alli. There was a similar situation with Luke Shaw at Manchester United, and he has gone on to establish himself as one of the best left backs in the league and an England regular in recent years.

Ryan Mason is temporarily in charge at Spurs and has clearly reverted back to the more ‘fatherly’ man management style that worked so well for Mauricio Pochettino. This has clearly improved the atmosphere within the Spurs squad and players like Alli and Gareth Bale are reaping the rewards..

Gareth Southgate, the England Head Coach, was sat watching inside the cavernous and empty Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday. He would have witnessed first hand Dele’s impressive performance against Wolves, and I hope he checked out the replays to see that, yes, he was denied a nutmeg assist by Rui Patricio’s fingertips and then denied a goal on the follow up by the width of a post.

Can Dele creep back into the England squad, increased by three to 26 for all finalists, for the delayed Euro 2020 tournament this summer? If he can perform to a similar level against Aston Villa and Leicester City he will be very close.

Gareth Southgate tends to favour those who have served him well in the past and Dele ticks that box strongly. He will also be fresh having missed out on so much of the season which could be a factor if we see some of the players involved in the Europa League and Champion’s League finals dropping out with injuries.

Jesse Lingard and Kelechi Iheanacho have been arguably the standout performers in the second half of the season. The former was not making matchday squads at Manchester United while the latter was struggling to make an impact as a substitute for Leicester but both have found a rich vein of form.

Meanwhile Patrick Bamford, with Premier League 15 goals to his name, was presumably disappointed not to score against Burnley last weekend, a club managed by Sean Dyche who allegedly thought he was ‘too posh’ to be a top level striker.

It just goes to show that sometimes players just need the right manager to coax the best form out of them. Ryan Mason has done that recently, it doesn’t look like Spurs see him as a long term solution, but with the correct man management Dele Alli can be a star for both club and country for years to come.

Gareth Bale could be the man to end Tottenham’s trophy drought

After a disappointing start to the season Spurs need a lift and Gareth Bale will provide that and much more.

Football is a team game but the worth of a truly world class player like Bale can never be underestimated. The Welshman changes games and when he’s on the pitch there is always the possibility of a wonder goal, a defence splitting pass or a match winning action.

He fills team mates with hope and belief, not to mention the fans, and opponents with fear. I put Bale in the ‘superstar’ category because he’s won the Champions League four times and La Liga twice at Real Madrid. Plus he dragged Wales to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 and has received endless individual awards in the process.

I find it hard to believe that a personality clash between Bale and Zinedine Zidane, another bonafide superstar during his playing days, has been allowed to fester for so long.

Bale has several more seasons as a player at the top and to have such a talent sat on the bench at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium is shocking. I know from personal experience how quickly a career passes and Bale, for his own good, needs to be doing what he does better than almost every player in world football.

He needs to be competing, entertaining, thrilling fans and, if possible, winning trophies. Skeptics will point out, with some justification, that Spurs don’t have a good recent record when it comes to silverware.

With just one League Cup this century I can’t argue that point. But Jose Mourinho has been a serial winner of trophies and with the arrival of another proven winner like Bale the mindset and mentality within the club can change.

There are no guarantees in football however every club should strive to win trophies and not just be a participant. I see no problems for Mourinho to fit Bale and Harry Kane into the same team and the combination should be special.

It’s the sort of signing that signals ambition. It’s been a long wait for a trophy and bringing back Bale could be a big step towards ending that drought and bringing some silverware to the brilliant new stadium.

To Dare is to Do

COVID-19 has affected us all but footballers don’t deserve special treatment

Nobody can guarantee total safety from COVID-19 for elite football players when they return to full training and competitive matches in the near future. But then the same goes for people working on public transport, construction sites and other areas of industry which are continuing to operate amid the current crisis.

It seems that some players believe that the Premier League is responsible for guaranteeing their safety. I’m sorry, but in life (just like in football!) there are no guarantees.

There are inherent risks in any sport. You are at more risk of suffering life threatening injuries in a Formula One race or a boxing match then you are in a football match but it is almost unheard of for a football match to be completed without a player on one of the teams picking up some sort of injury.

We have even seen players like Marc-Vivien Foé and Cheick Tioté collapse and die during football matches or training. Fortunately these type of tragedies are very rare but they remind us that even a relatively safe sport like football there are serious risks.

As a player I was virtually fearless but as I get older I have taken a much more careful approach towards managing the risk of injury. At my age the recovery time is much slower than it is for a footballer in their prime, and I am conscious of the risk of suffering an injury that would stop me getting out on the pitch to coach, or even going to the gym or playing golf in my spare time.

I don’t think players today are less brave then they were in my day, the game is just played at a faster pace so they have to be much more careful about deciding when and where to challenge hard. But I do think their lives are very different to ours because they started earning big money at such a young age, as well as being the subject of intense media scrutiny.

Perhaps living in this sort of ‘bubble’ where you use your wealth to shield you from public scrutiny away from the pitch gives players a different idea of what constitutes an acceptable risk than say a builder of bus driver. But I don’t believe that professional footballers should be protected more than people in other professions.

The sheer amount of money involved in the Premier League means that players will inevitably get better protection from COVID-19, and better medical treatment if they do contract it, then people in other professions that aren’t generating millions in revenue every week.

The no expense spared approach towards the care of Premier League players under the ‘football restart’ initiative should be more than enough to assure them. Yes it’s easy for me to say because I won’t be playing for either of my former Premier League clubs, Brighton or Spurs.

I’ve not been privy to all the meetings and discussions which are ongoing. However if construction sites are operating, the trains, tubes and buses are running and people in many other fields of work are taking similar risks on a daily basis then I don’t see why football, or sport in general, should be treated any differently.

There will be some difficult decisions to make in the coming days and weeks. But we all want to see the Premier League back on our screens, even if fans won’t be able to attend games for a while.

Harry Kane should think twice about leaving Tottenham

Leaving a club to further your playing ambitions can be fraught with problems … especially if you’re the team’s captain and top goalscorer and come through the clubs academy.

I was never in that position and I never wanted to move on from my clubs, on four out of four occasions they moved me on. A player of Harry Kane’s talent deserves to win trophies so I could understand if he wanted to leave, and if Tottenham decide they want to sell him it will be almost impossible or him to stay.

The key for Harry Kane, if he does depart, is to do so in a way that ensures he can remain a hero for the Spurs fans forever. He doesn’t want to end up being hated in the way Sol Campbell was following his acrimonious departure from the club.

Campbell came through the academy, just like Kane, and became a truly great first team player for nine seasons at White Hart Lane. The important thing is for Kane to be open and honest with the club if he does want to go.

That way Spurs should receive a record breaking transfer fee to compensate for the loss of their brilliant goal scorer. The process should be as transparent as possible and the club and player need to be up front with the fans about what is going on.

It’s why Spurs fans are so hostile towards Sol Campbell, they feel there was a lack of honesty leading up to his 2001 departure. Fans felt deceived because he left on a free transfer having run down his contract after implying he would sign a new deal.

Spurs missed out on getting a transfer fee for Campbell but the player and his agent were the chief beneficiaries. I’ve worked in the media with Sol and have no issues with him but I would not want to be in his shoes no matter how much money he made just because of the sheer level of hatred he has had to deal with over the years.

I am fortunate enough to have a good relationship with all the clubs I played for and am always made very welcome if I want to go back to watch a game or whatever. That definitely wouldn’t be the case for Campbell and Michael Owen is another player who I don’t think feels particularly welcome at his boyhood club because he went on to play for Man Utd.

Harry Kane is a class act on and off the pitch and I believe he will show integrity with whatever negotiations are approaching. But I would urge him to think carefully about his next move, because he will be a legend for life at Tottenham if he does the right thing.

That doesn’t necessarily mean staying, although it would be refreshing to see that there were still one club men at the pinnacle of the modern game in the mold of a Totti or Maldini or Gerrard (I don’t think any Liverpool fans would hold his stint in MLS against him!). But if he does move he should think carefully about where he wants to go.

I don’t think Spurs fans would hold it against him if Kane decided to move to Spain or Italy in order to pursue his dream of winning the top honours. But I do think it would leave a sour taste among supporters if he left for a Premier League rival like Man Utd.

It was an honour for me to be invited to the grand opening of the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. It is 30 years since I Iast played for the first team but the bond that I still have with the club and its supporters means a lot to me.

Whatever Harry Kane does next, and I hope it is to commit his long term future to Spurs, he should think carefully about what that relationship means to him and whether any amount of money could be enough to destroy it.

Singling out footballers for criticism during this pandemic is unfair

I don’t understand the fascination in player salaries. What a professional footballer earns at his club is nothing to do with me or the wider public.

When I played I had no idea where I was positioned earnings wise in comparison to players at my club or other clubs for that matter and it didn’t interest me.

I always pushed my employer for more money in negotiations but then again who wouldn’t? For me the competition was about winning games on the pitch, not being able to earn more money than other players.

I don’t think players today are that different. There might be a lot more money in the game than there was during my day, but that doesn’t mean they are only motivated by money.

Market forces dictate how much they get paid. People are entitled to believe that nurses or doctors deserve more than professional footballers but the reality is that everyone wants to get the best deal they can from their employer, and market forces dictate that footballers can get a lot more than people in most other professions.

So why have high earning elite Premier League players come in for so much negative press with the COVID-19 virus shutting down so much of the world? For me it’s because they are always under so much public scrutiny that they are always going to get more attention than just about anyone else.

They are expected to be role models and the media absolutely relish the opportunity to point out any examples of bad behaviour. But no two players are the same, and expecting every single football player to sign up to the same terms for a wage reduction is not realistic.

It’s not right to tag all the 600 or so Premier League players into the same category. They are all at different stages of their careers, on different salaries and at different ages and some of them are already being extremely generous in supporting charitable projects, often in less affluent countries.

Should a player who is already giving 30 per cent of his salary to charitable causes be expected to take the same wage cut as a player who isn’t? There are so many variables like this that telling any group within society what they need to do regards a signed and agreed contract is not appropriate.

Decision making at the highest level of football has been dictated by greed and self interest for so long that there is a huge amount of distrust among the general public. That isn’t the players fault though, and it would be wrong for attention to be focused on the people on the pitch instead of the clubs, associations and governing bodies.

It would be understandable if players were greedy, not that I think this is necessarily the case. They have a very limited window of opportunity in which to make big money and all it takes is one bad injury for a player coming towards the end of a contract and the opportunity can disappear in an instant.

Clubs have more stability, although we’ve seen in recent years that they can come and go too. But institutions like the Premier League, UEFA and FIFA are making millions, if not billions, every year without any of the pressure, expectation and risk that is part and parcel of daily life for your average footballer.

I really like the #PlayersTogether initiative which further enhances a lot of great work players do that never gets reported. These are unprecedented circumstances and everyone needs to do what they can to help society recover and hopefully return to normal once this pandemic is over.

But the focus on footballers is unfair and unhelpful. These are young men who don’t generally come from wealthy backgrounds and have had to work very hard in an industry which is incredibly unpredictable and uncertain.

Everyone needs to help out in whatever way they can. But footballers should not be expected to make greater sacrifices then bankers, lawyers, politicians or financially successful people from other walks of life.

The winter break is here to stay

When I was a player it wasn’t uncommon to play two games in two days at Christmas time. In 1980 Brighton played Leicester away on Christmas Day and won 1-0, on Boxing Day we were at home to Crystal Pace and we won that one 3-2.

I can remember coming into the Goldstone Ground in the morning before the Palace game and the manager Alan Mullery, his assistant Ken Craggs, the kitman Glen Wilson and the physio, Mike Yaxley, were all giving the players a soap massage on the treatment tables to try and get some blood into the muscles and get rid of the stiffness so you could play that afternoon.

Back then the squads were much smaller and there was only one sub. So a manager might use the same 11 players two days in a row, but there’s absolutely no way a player can perform at 100% for 90 minutes and then do the same thing again the following day.

It was difficult back then but it would be impossible today. Everyone is finding ways to improve performance, players are covering more ground, doing it at faster paces and being pushed to the absolute limit and the game is much faster now then it was in my day.

The winter break hasn’t exactly gone to plan with Liverpool ending up with an FA Cup replay while they were supposed to be on holiday and Man City’s game with West Ham getting called off, although you can’t legislate for the weather. But the important thing is that almost all the teams got a two week holiday.

The Bundesliga took a break from December 23rd to January 18th. But they only have 18 teams and there is only one domestic cup competition. Cup competitions and a busy Christmas calendar are traditional in England and I wouldn’t like to see either scrapped.

Scrapping replays and extra time for the cups is one solution to fixture congestion. Just play 90 minutes and then go straight to penalties if a match is drawn, that way there can’t be any unexpected surprises on the calendar like Liverpool and Shrewsbury going to a replay.

The winter break was brought in so that the top players would be fresher for the international tournaments in the summer. Nearly everyone in the England squad plays in the Premier League so it will be interesting to see if there is any obvious benefit when Euro 2020 comes around.

Even if England don’t do well we won’t know conclusively whether it was due to fatigue or other factors. So I think the winter break is here to stay, and staggering it means the Premier League can still put on a handful of matches every weekend for the broadcasters.

In 1982 I was in the Brighton team that lost 1-0 at home to Southampton on December 26th and then were beaten 2-0 by Spurs in an away game the following day. 1983 wasn’t much better, I was in the Spurs side that got beat 4-2 by Arsenal at White Hart Lane on Boxing Day and then drew 0-0 away to Aston Villa 24 hour’s later.

Today’s players don’t have to deal with that sort of a schedule and neither should they. The Premier League is watched by millions of people all over the world in the modern era and it is only right that the people on the pitch should get a bit of protection to ensure they can perform to the right level come match day.

Why I won’t be cheering when Tottenham play Brighton tomorrow

Two of my former teams are playing tomorrow and people keep asking me who I will be cheering for. It would be a difficult choice but it’s one I’m not going to make, because when I signed my first contract I stopped being a fan and became a professional.

That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy watching football. I’m a huge fan of the game and closely follow the three clubs I have represented; Brighton, Tottenham and Portsmouth.

But for me to come out and say I’m a Tottenham fan and I’m cheering for them or that I’m a Brighton fan and I’m cheering for them would be very disrespectful. I know a lot of ex pros are very clear about where their affiliations lie but you will never hear me referring to a team as ‘we’ because I think it’s unprofessional.

I do have great memories from my time at both Brighton and Tottenham and will always want them to do well. Both clubs have had difficult seasons so far but under very different circumstances.

How bad is the malaise that has developed at Spurs at the moment? I don’t think it’s anything like as bad as most people are making out. We all know that things change fast in football and results can change everything.

In a month’s time Spurs might be in a very difficult situation, but they might have completely turned things around and be back in the top four and on course for the last 16 of the Champion’s League.I hope it will be the latter and if that happens the League Cup exit will be long forgotten.

While Spurs need the points to get back in the top four for Brighton the priority is moving away from the relegation zone.

Brighton have been playing some really good football but they haven’t been getting their reward in terms of points.

It’s a totally different leadership regime there with Graham Potter taking over from Chris Hughton. He’s a modern coach, his teams play out from the back and he wants to play an expansive, entertaining type of football whereas Chris Hughton was a lot more pragmatic and tried to ensure his teams kept things tight and didn’t lose game.

For Chris it was all about staying in the Premier League, even if that came at the expense of entertainment. It’s not that he didn’t want to play entertaining football, he did, but it couldn’t come at the detriment of picking up points.

Brighton might feel it’s a good time to play Spurs and if that’s the case they can use it to their advantage. But some would say it’s a bad time to play Spurs because after what happened midweek there’s bound to be a backlash so in that respect it is all psychological.

So you won’t find me cheering for either team tomorrow. But I will be watching the game because first and foremost I’m a football fan and Brighton and Tottenham will always be close to my heart.

VAR is far from perfect but it’s here to stay

When VAR was spoken about as coming into the game I was against it because I felt that it would take away the human aspect of the game. Players make mistakes, coaches make mistakes, referees make mistakes and we have to accept and live with that.

My concern with VAR coming in was that possibly it made it too clinical and, as it happens, VAR has probably created more controversy. We’ve got more talking points surrounding decisions in games now than we ever did before.

What I would say is that we are in an era where players are assisted more than ever before with sports psychologists, fitness coaches, dieticians, GPS monitoring etc. It has become a real science.

I think it’s only right that the people who are refereeing or officiating these players should be getting a similar level of technological support. You see experts in the studio with slow motion saying ‘looks he’s clearly offside’ and asking ‘how on earth has the linesman missed that?’ Well the linesman has missed it because of the pace of the game.

It is easy for a pundit to sit in the comfort of the studio and make that type of judgment but it’s not as easy for officials to make those decisions in real time from the side of the pitch. That’s where VAR can be very valuable but it needs to be used in a way that isn’t going to completely disrupt the actual game.

VAR is here to stay but I think it has to be used in moderation. The goalline technology is brilliant because either it’s in or it’s not and the referee knows instantly. There is no pause while everyone stops and waits for the decision.

But with other VAR decisions there is still an element of judgment involved. For instance how do you tell if a player intended to hurt somebody in a challenge? It might appear to be dangerous but was it just caused by a natural movement with no intent?

In that respect I think the controversy over VAR is just going to rumble on.

The technology is still in its infancy and I’m sure the way it is used will become more sophisticated as time goes on, but at the moment VAR seems to be creating more problems than it is solving.

The women’s game is improving but USA still leading the way

I went to the US in the early 80s as a Brighton player to help run a soccer camp in Dallas and was amazed at the time by how many of the players were girls. The US has been building and developing grassroots female football for at least 20 years longer than the rest of the world and it shows because the USA are dominating the women’s game

I watched quite a bit of the Women’s World Cup. Overall I was really impressed with it, for some reason there are a lot of people that feel female football is a poor product but I would say to them that they needed to have watched the Women’s World Cup because I thought there was some really good football.

Of course its different to the men’s game but you don’t have an Olympic 100 metre race between men and women because the top men sprinters are faster than the top women sprinters so the women’s game isn’t as fast or as powerful. But technically the women players are excellent and I would suggest that any man playing outside of professional football would not be able to live with the women in the pro game. The standard is really high.

I thought Stephanie Houghton, who unfortunately missed the vital penalty in the semi final, was outstanding as a defender and I was also impressed by the striker who scored a few foals for England, Ellen White, I thought she was a natural finisher and she ended up with 6 goals

But to improve the elite female players you need to invest in the grassroots game. The US has been doing that for decades and it is no coincidence that their national team has just won the World Cup for the second time in succession.

What Tottenham need to do this summer

The most important thing for Spurs is to keep the manager but I think that is the easiest of all the jobs that Spurs have this summer because Mauricio Pochettino has a contract which he extended not long ago. I think he really does love the club, there’s a real affinity there and he gets on really well with Daniel Levy. Of course he is ambitious but the relationship between the manager and the club seems pretty solid.

Players, as we know, are a little bit more difficult to deal with at times and Christian Eriksen has suggested that he wants to try something different. I think deep down he really would love to stay but he wants to earn the type of money that he could earn if he were to move to a big, or bigger, club.

What Spurs need to do in my opinion is loosen the money belt a little bit because as far as what they have facility wise (the stadium, the training ground) they are already a big club but they don’t pay big club wages. I’m not suggesting that will guarantee success, spending big money doesn’t necessarily guarantee you success, but to keep the real talent that they have at the club like Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld, who I believe has a £25M release clause in his current contract, they have got to pay bigger salaries.

Their recruitment generally speaking has been decent. Lucas Moura has started to deliver, Juan Foyth will ultimately be a good player but they need a bit more depth in the squad. So they’ve got to buy some players but I don’t think the policy is to buy superstars, it’s to buy players that Pochettinho can develop and improve.

Having not spent any money in the last two transfer windows and still qualified for the Champion’s League next season, I think Spurs are in the perfect position to attract players because the best players want to play in the Champion’s League. 

I believe Spurs made the biggest profit of any club in the world in the most recent financial year so they’ve made money. Of course they’ve borrowed huge amounts to do the stadium but, despite the spend on the stadium, they are in an amazingly strong position to buy players.

Spurs under Levy will not spend over the odds and I think this is right. I have to balance my books as an individual and football clubs should be responsible enough to do that too. 

Levy is definitely not irresponsible when it comes to spending but for me now is the perfect time for Spurs to strengthen and doing so will hopefully take them that next step. The current model has worked extremely well and its just a case of possibly increasing the budget a little bit.

As far as blowing the whole budget on one or two ‘superstars’, like a Paul Pogba, I don’t think that fits the Spurs model and I don’t think Pochettino wants to do that either.

For me you don’t go and buy Pogba for Tottenham, even if the deal was doable, because actually the way Tottenham work is very much team orientated and even the stars within the spurs side like Kane, Eriksen , Alli they are all very level headed, grounded people and the way Pogba operates at times is almost like a one man show.

I’m not spending hours watching the Bundesliga, the Eredevisie, Ligue 1 and other competitions all over the world like the Spurs scouts are so it’s difficult for me to suggest names of the sort of prospects that the club has consistently done a good job of bringing in over the years.

But you can’t help but get drawn towards players who have done well very recently and if you look at the Ajax side there’s two or three there who are very much Tottenham players for me. In particular De Jong in midfield, but he’s gone to Barcelona and De Ligt at the back but again he’s likely to go elsewhere. 

I don’t think there are many more attractive clubs to join than Spurs. Yes of course there’s Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus and then in England there’s Man City and Liverpool but I would probably put Tottenham in the top eight clubs in the world that players would like to come and join at the moment.

So De Jong and De Ligt might be out of reach but those are the type of calibre signings I would like to see Spurs going for. In terms of trying to sign a ‘superstar’ it depends on the character and the personality of that player. A Pogba wouldn’t fit in for me but a De Jong would have been perfect and I’d like to see Spurs show that type of ambition in the transfer market. 

In terms of outgoing the general feeling is that Trippier hasn’t had a very good season. He did great in the World Cup and really came to prominence but hasn’t had a good season at Spurs and I don’t think it would be a huge loss if he went.

Maybe it makes sense to sell Eriksen just because of the sort of the transfer fee he could command. Liverpool did it with Coutinho, with the £130 million they got for him they bought in Van Dyk and Alisson and its made them. But the Spurs squad hasn’t got a great deal of depth so if Eriksen leaves they need to sign another player of that ilk for sure.

There might also be internal options. What happens is when a big player goes it gives the opportunity to a younger player to fill the void but until that big player goes and the young player has the opportunity to fill the void you never really know if he’s going to be able to make the step up or not. 

I look at the Spurs squad and I think if they can keep everybody and add to it that would be the ideal way. There’s a couple of peripheral players who could be moved on but certainly Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Eriksen are players in my opinion they need to keep and add to. Having said that, if you can get £100 million or more for Eriksen and bring in quality replacements then that’s always an option to consider.

It’s going to be very difficult for any of the other clubs to close the gap on Liverpool and Man City. If you look at their squads, they are much deeper, you need that depth.

So Tottenham will definitely need to recruit this summer, and selling a player like Eriksen might even be the best way to do that. But it’s about getting quality not quantity, otherwise Spurs just have to go with a thin squad. That’s what happened last season, and it didn’t work out too badly!