At some level you can’t really defend what Dele Alli did last night. Kicked a guy who was down and was damned fortunate to only walk away with yellow. The manager rightly chided him after the game, saying he “has a lot to learn” and one hopes in private he will make very certain that all the hopes and dreams that are accumulating for this club aren’t swept away by one equally rash decision when the red mist comes calling in April or May.
But there is a part of all of us that responds to Alli’s impertinence—or Dier chirping back at YaYa Toure in the tunnel before the second half Sunday (making the same gesture the Ivorian’s boss Mancini did at Sir Alex when the Noisy Neighbors first began to take charge of the league back in 2012)—or Alderweireld looking menacing at some opposition forward—by being thankful it is our lot that is showing such stick, and not the other way around.
We may not have a Keane or Vieira on this squad—or even a Terry—but I see some of the same qualities that typified those talismen in what was admittedly a different era. I like the fact that we foul more than almost any other side in the league—that Erik Lamela in particular commits a higher rate of fouls because have you ever really noticed his work rate? And the balls he wins back or the counterthrusts he prevents, even if it might have been his giveaway that required such a reaction?
In American football they’ve studied the “personal fouls” for defensive players—late hits, holding, helmet to helmet contact, roughing the passer (the quarterback)—and found despite their generally punitive nature: mainly 15 yard mark-offs which aren’t minor—there is virtually no correlation of these transgressions to negative outcomes for the entire game. In other words, what the Lord taketh away in terms of the infractions themselves he giveth in terms of the overall benefit of aggression, the rough plays that are not whistled, the overall attitude of the offending team.
Such are Spurs becoming this season—call it steel, grit, stick—whatever. This team is in your face—on the pitch, in the tunnel, in the pub or loo, for all I know. Compare Harry Kane’s wistful stare at Wayne Rooney in the opener at Old Trafford to his confident, one might say even brash, demeanor today. Eric Dier gave YaYa some of his own medicine and City buckled in the end, not us. And as for the 19 year old wunderkind, well don’t you think some of the reaction last night was an understandable expression in reaction to what must be some pretty tough trash talk and physical treatment his budding stardom has generated. “I’ll show you, punk from League One—you’re not scoring a crazy-ass goal tonight”.
So he kicked a guy who might have had it coming, or might not… He’s nineteen. He’ll mature. I don’t even want to see him lose the attitude, though. Which player is revered more than any other for spearheading United in the early years to extraordinary heights? Who took that side on his broad shoulders and said to the world “Come at us, lads. We’re ready for anything you’ve got”. Eric Cantona, that’s who.
Give me Diers and Allis and Kanes and Lamelas and Alderweirelds and Roses. Fergie couldn’t say “it’s Tottenham” anymore now, could he?
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