Woof!
FourFourTwo UK|April 2017

Second season syndrome? Forget it. In the 12 months since we last spoke, Dele Alli has gone from England’s hottest prospect to the most talked about young player in the world. The only thing that can stop him now – someone chewing up all his football boots

James Maw

There’s excitement in the air as FourFourTwo awaits the arrival of this month’s cover star. Will he be in a good mood today? Will he take direction from our photographer? Is he as fun-loving and carefree as we’ve been told? As soon as the star of the show bounds into the north London studio, each question is answered with a resounding ‘yes’. And he didn’t do his business in the corner of the room, either.

“Hugo is well-trained,” says Dele, who, you will have noticed, also happens to feature on our cover, alongside his family’s beloved pooch. “Well, if they are training him to chew all my shoes, anyway.”

Hugo is indeed immaculately behaved, despite a reputation for gallivanting off to chase squirrels around the leafier corners of Buckinghamshire. He is also well-turned-out, having spent the previous afternoon at the poodle salon and been bought a special primping brush to ensure he looks his best for his first-ever photo shoot. This is his day, after all. “He was stealing my limelight,” Dele says with a laugh, and just the tiniest hint of jealousy, once the interspecies photo call is over. “He’s the family dog. He lives back in Milton Keynes, but comes to visit me now and then. Every time he leaves, I notice my trainers are chewed up!”

Of course, it isn’t just the 18-month-old King Charles Spaniel/Shih-Tzu cross – not named after Tottenham captain Lloris, since you ask – who benefits from being well-trained. Dele is thriving under the tutelage of his manager at White Hart Lane, the demanding Mauricio Pochettino.

“Sometimes you take your foot off the pedal a little bit, but he’s always there straightaway to make sure you know that everyone is fighting for a place, and that it’s just as easy to come out of the team as it is to get into it,” the 20-year-old says of the Argentine. “He wants you to give 100 per cent all of the time. He wants the intensity that you see us playing with in matches all of the time. As soon as he sees you coming off it in training, he will tell you straightaway. You can’t get complacent.”

Not that the Milton Keynes native could be accused of standing still. It’s one year and five days since FFT last met up with the Spurs schemer, but so much has happened in the past 12 months that this chat feels long overdue.

He has helped Tottenham Hotspur to their joint-best league finish since 1963, played in his first major tournament with England and made his Champions League bow, all before his 21st birthday. He and his teams may not have had everything go their way in that time, but as the man himself is quick to tell us, he has learned a heck of a lot from those setbacks.

“I feel much more mature now,” Dele confesses, making himself comfortable on the very same sofa from which he spoke to us a year ago. “I’ve grown up a lot and am experiencing new things on and off the pitch. 

“Fortunately, I have some good people around me to help me grow into a better person – my family, the people around the club and the manager. If you ever step out of line, he has a word with you. If he sees you have got a problem or thinks something’s wrong at home, he’ll speak with you about it.”

The reverent tone with which he refers to his manager speaks volumes for exactly how much he believes the former Espanyol and Southampton boss has done for his football career. And the talented youngster has come a very long way in a very short space of time.

Twelve months after being named in the PFA’s 2014-15 League One Team of the Year and as the Football League’s Young Player of the Year for his role in MK Dons’ promotion to the Championship, he was named PFA Young Player of the Year for scoring 10 goals and providing assists for nine more as Tottenham finished third in the Premier League. In 2016-17, he’s likely to be among the nominees for the senior award.

In December, he played his 50th top-flight match, as Spurs won 4-1 at Southampton. In that match he scored his 15th and 16th Premier League goals. He also provided 10 assists in that time. These tallies compare favorably to those of the most iconic English midfielder of the Premier League era in their first half-century of matches; Paul Scholes (16 goals, two assists), Frank Lampard (five goals, two assists) and Steven Gerrard (two goals, three assists). Even Cristiano Ronaldo only managed six goals in his first 50 English league football outings.

“[Pochettino] has helped a lot since I’ve been at Spurs,” says Dele. “If I’m ever down, he can tell straightaway. He sees it in your face. For me, the important thing is that he doesn’t just look at what is happening on the pitch; he looks at what’s going on off the pitch, to make sure everything is going well for you. And if you ever have any problems, he’s always there to help.”

Having a level-headed gaffer who’ll impart timely words of wisdom is particularly useful for a young player still adapting to a whole new level of fame. Just for starters, his Twitter following has swelled from 120,000 000 to more than 300,000 over the past 12 months, with similar increases on other social media channels. He’s becoming a superstar.

“I’m still the same boy I was at MK; the thing that has changed is getting noticed more when I’m out and about,” Dele says confidently. “You get used to it. I’m happy to be in the spotlight – it comes with the job – and hopefully I can set a good example for youngsters.” He’s certain ly polite, and makes a point of greeting Team FFT upon his arrival, shaking us all by the hand. He is that kid at school your parents wished you were more like: smartly dressed, well-mannered, and better at football. But not everything comes quite so easily for Dele. With this increased profile, he is now a big enough deal to fill column inches outside the sports section.

“It’s another thing that comes with the territory,” he says a little more sternly, the smile leaving his face for the first time. “You’ve just got to ignore it. Sometimes it can be stressful, but if you’ve got the right people with you, they help you to focus.”

It seems that the swift and humiliating conclusion to England d’s European Championship adventure in France last summer held at least some of Dele’s focus for a good few months. The Three Lions crashed out at the hands of unfancied

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