Dele Alli had just turned 14 years old when Paul Ince departed MK Dons. But even then, the former Manchester United and England midfielder knew.
A product of the Dons’ academy, Alli was already starting to make himself known as a star of the future. Two years later a first-team debut followed, and the rest is history.
“I saw quite a bit of Dele when I was managing MK Dons,” Ince tells FFT.
“Myself and Karl Robinson would go to watch the young kids on a Tuesday night on the training ground, and there were a couple of players down there that we knew had half a chance of getting into the first team. Dele was one of them. You’d watch him for an hour and the potential was clear.”
Now, Alli is preparing to go into his first tournament with England as one of the Three Lions’ main men, despite still being only 20. His debut season with Spurs was so impressive that it earned him the PFA Young Player of the Year award, and Ince is certain that this is only the start.
“His rise has been really quick and one of the best things about him is his character,” says Ince, one of the midfield stars of Euro 96. “You can tell he’s got some inner strength and that’s helped him cope with moving up through the game quite quickly. He’s got a good mindset, he knows what he wants to achieve in the game and what he needs to do to get there.
“He’s still got a lot to learn and it’s important that we don’t get too carried away about him. Some of the stuff Dele does is very immature. He makes some silly tackles and he can kick out at people. That’s where he’s got to learn and improve.
“But he’s got potential to be anyone he wants to be. He reminds me a little bit of Steven Gerrard. He’s got a similar build, he can tackle, he makes great runs into the box – he’s a goalscoring midfielder, and we don’t get too many of those. Dele is clever and he’s got all the attributes to succeed, because he can do everything.”
Tottenham paid an initial fee of just £5m to sign Alli from MK Dons 16 months ago, when the midfielder’s only first-team experience was at League One level. Ince believes it’s proof that managers should be paying more attention to rising stars in the Football League.
“His rise has been a good sign for me,” says Ince, who was speaking after joining up with Jimmy Bullard to film a spoof of the Godfather, as part of Carling’s Pay Per Inch promotion.
“What it says is that you don’t always have to go out and spend millions and millions on expensive foreign players. There are some very good players in the Championship and in League One, and maybe we don’t look at them enough. Jamie Vardy is another shining example of that fact.
“To be honest, it annoys me when you see Roy Hodgson going to so many Premier League games to watch the same old players. They know that these players are going to be in the squad, so I’d like to see him at more Championship games, trying to look at some more top English players that could do well, like Dele has.”
Interview: Nick Moore
Paul Ince has teamed up with Carling to celebrate Carling's Pay Per Inch promotion, giving you the chance to win a brand new TV for the price of its screen size. Visit www.payperinchTV.com or check out #GameOfInches
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