When will the witch-hunt against Tottenham Hotspur and England star Dele Alli stop?
PUBLISHED: 18:00 19 February 2018
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The 21-year-old once again showed his class on Sunday, but all the talk after the game was about him winning a spot-kick
Rochdale manager Keith Hill made an interesting point after watching his players hold Spurs to a 2-2 draw in the fifth round of the FA Cup on Sunday.
Steven Davies’ stoppage time equaliser ensured Tottenham Hotspur would have to play a replay with the League One outfit at Wembley to decide who reaches the quarter-finals of the competition.
Harry Kane’s spot-kick in the 88th minute appeared to be sending Mauricio Pochettino’s team into the last-eight until Davies intervened.
Before that, it was Dele Alli who won Spurs their penalty, after being brought down by Dale centre back Harrison McGahey.
There was clear contact from the Rochdale defender and yet Twitter blew up again with accusations of diving chucked at the 21-year-old.
But Hill said: “If a centre forward or midfield player feels as though there is a penalty opportunity to be gained... brilliant – whether it is Dele Alli, Steve Davies, Ian Henderson or Andy Cannon, it doesn’t really matter.
“I won’t hold it against him and if he does it for England in the summer and we win the World Cup, I will certainly be supporting him.”
Now whether Hill’s last comment was tongue in cheek or serious is up for debate, but there does appear a real issue regarding Alli.
For me, the issue isn’t about Alli and diving, it is the current witch-hunt against one of England’s best players just months before a World Cup.
Two weeks ago, against Liverpool, the ex-MK Dons midfielder dived to try and win a spot-kick at Anfield.
He was, correctly, booked for his misdemeanour and given it is not his first caution for simulation, it is clear the 21-year-old does on occasions dive.
When Alli dives, like he did at Liverpool, it is fair to criticise him and call for him to stop doing it.
But there is a difference between diving and going down a little easily when contact has been made.
What happened on Sunday in the final exchanges at Rochdale was a defender not being quick enough to stop Alli and therefore fouling him.
The Spurs number 20 went down a little theatrically, but there can be no doubt about the decision to award a penalty.
McGahey stuck his leg out across Alli’s path and made contact with his thigh, which means it was a foul.
Yes, the impact of the tackle was exaggerated, but nevertheless it was a mistimed challenge and given it was in the area a penalty was correctly awarded by referee Bobby Madley.
Instead of admiring the alertness of Alli in order to win the penalty, or his numerous nutmegs on Sunday or his fine movement throughout his cameo at Spotland Stadium, all the talk is about whether he dived or not.
Opposition fans have spent the past 24 hours blasting the England international while the topic has also been discussed and written about by various media outlets.
It begs the question why are we going out of our way to try and negatively impact one of the best players in our national team?
We have been here before with David Beckham (1998 World Cup) and Wayne Rooney (2006 World Cup) - two players who have both felt the scorn of the public after making mistakes when they were still growing up and maturing.
If Alli dives he should be criticised, but even when he doesn’t dive he is now castigated and this is in no way helpful towards England’s chances of doing well in Russia.
I’m not suggesting we should let anything slide for players in Gareth Southgate’s squad, but why is there so much hate towards Alli?
He is an exceptionally gifted player and one of the best this country has produced in a long time.
For a 21-year-old to have achieved what he has after coming through the academy at MK Dons is testament to his character and quality.
Over the next few months would it be so hard to focus on the sensational things Alli does with the ball at his feet?
The skills he produces, the movement away from markers, the dribbles and the intelligent way he drifts into areas to allow space for others.
It is no coincidence some of the best clubs across the globe have monitored his progress over the last couple of years.
They are doing so because Alli has all the attributes to be world class and that is what we should all be focusing on as England fans – not hurling unjustified abuse at him.
Additional reporting by Press Association Sport.