It is not that Pochettino fails to appreciate what most observers now agree on, and the statistics support — that Alli has scored more goals this season than anyone under 21 in Europe’s big five leagues, and has scored and assisted in more goals, 40, than a combination of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and David Beckham achieved by that landmark birthday.
His 19th goal this season was arguably his best, a long range shot that flew past Heurelho Gomes to break the stubborn resistance of Watford, allowing Spurs to coast to another 4-0 victory and keep the pressure on leaders Chelsea.
Tottenham’s other goals, from Eric Dier and two from Heung-Min Son, were not too shabby either, but Alli’s was the pick and his overall performance showed why he is a serious target for richer, if not more successful clubs than Tottenham.
So Pochettino knows he must strike a fine balance in looking after his wunderkind without upsetting the team ethic he has created, one which extends beyond the pitch to the club’s staff and chairman Daniel Levy.
Most people assume Levy will sell any player if the price is right — he did so with Michael Carrick, Robbie Keane and most notably Gareth Bale. But Pochettino is convinced that he has the total support of his chairman, staff and players in their combined vision for Spurs as one of the world’s elite clubs.
When it was put to him on Saturday that Alli had better stats than the aforementioned England trio, and even Paul Scholes and Cristiano Ronaldo at the same age, Pochettino responded:
“Wow. That’s unbelievable. He’s green but he’s great. First of all, he’s a great kid, a lovely, lovely person. And then he is a great player.”
Pochettino knows there is much more to come. “He is so young he can improve a lot, learn a lot, his potential is massive. Every day he’s improving, and getting more mature. He’s improving in his skills but in his character as well.”
The one criticism of Alli has been flashes of temper, leading to red cards for retaliation on Claudio Yacob last season and the ugly lunge on Gent’s Brecht Dejaegere this year. Pochettino has stood by him.
“People criticised me for different reasons, tried to ‘kill’ me and him, but time has shown we were right to support him, to give him love because he is so young. His character is perfect for a player; when you feel that to lose on the pitch is like losing your life.
“Of course he is young and needs to improve, but he needs love, not to be punched or punished. I am so happy for him because I knew the relationship from day one was tough. Was friendly, lovely, but tough too because it’s like when you have your son, you love him, but sometimes you have to be tough.”
Pochettino has two teenage sons, while Alli lacked a father figure growing up, suggesting there is father-son relationship between the two.
“I don’t know,” says the manager. “We try, because to be honest the staff are doing a great job, not only with Dele but with different players. But it’s true, yes my relationship is good with him and we’re very happy because he’s enjoying his football.”
But Alli will not get special treatment on his 21st birthday. “I think he will celebrate with his family and his friends. We haven’t prepared anything special but still we’ll congratulate him.”
It fits perfectly with Pochettino’s philosophy that team unity comes above any individual. The early return from injury of Kane, who appeared after an hour, was a huge bonus but Pochettino was quick to dismiss the notion that Spurs are heavily reliant on him or anyone else. “It is not about one player or another, but who plays for Tottenham. It is the team. That is what we have been building here in less than three years.”
Lloris 7; Trippier 8, Alderweireld 7, Vertonghen 7, Davies 7; Dier 7, Dembele 7 (Sissoko 74); Eriksen 8, Alli 9, Son 8 (Onomah 87); Janssen 5 (Kane 60)
Gomes 6; Janmaat 6, Mariappa 6, Cathcart 5; Amrabat 6 (Deeney 69), Success 6, Doucoure 5 (Zuniga 59), Cleverley 6, Niang 6, Holebas 5; Okaka 5 (Kabasele 85) Ref A Taylor