Devilish Alli confronts his England demons

Dele Alli (Gallo Images)
Dele Alli (Gallo Images)

Glasgow - England midfielder Dele Alli says he and his team-mates have had to revisit some "dark places" in order to come to terms with their humiliating Euro 2016 elimination by Iceland.

Alli was one of the 11 players who traipsed from the pitch in Nice last June after Iceland had condemned England to their most galling defeat since a 1-0 loss to the part-timers of the United States at the 1950 World Cup.

Now four points clear in their World Cup qualifying group, England are back on track under manager Gareth Southgate and Alli says being forced to confront their demons has helped the squad to move on.

"We've done a lot of work in the camp," the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder told reporters ahead of Saturday's World Cup qualifier against Scotland in Glasgow.

"We've talked about it and I'm sure Gareth's aware of how hard it is to talk about it as players, such a low point in our careers.

"You don't really want to talk about it or think about it because it's such a hard thing, you know? It still makes your heart go and you get a lump in your throat.

"But I think it's important that we do go to those dark places to improve as a team. You need to go through it and see what happened and where we went wrong.

"When you have the chance to improve as a team, you have to take it, even if it does mean going through something like that."

Exuberantly talented but also tough, Alli is an emblem of the new future Southgate intends to forge for England.

The 21-year-old scored 18 goals in the Premier League as Spurs finished runners-up to Chelsea and was voted England's Young Player of the Year by his peers for the second season running.

He plays with a touch of devilment and was sent off in February for an awful, dangerous foul on Anderlecht's Brecht Dejaegere in the Europa League.

- 'Stand your ground' -

The previous season, he was banned for three games for punching West Bromwich Albion's Claudio Yacob, but while he accepts his challenge on Dejaegere was "horrible" and "a mistake", he is determined not to lose his edge.

"I know there are a lot of mixed opinions about it, but that's the player I am and it's been in my game ever since I was a youngster," said Alli, who earned his spurs in England's rough-and-tumble third tier with Milton Keynes Dons.

"That's not something I'm looking to change, to be honest. Obviously I've made a few mistakes and hopefully you can tell that I've learnt from them, but like I say, it's not something that I'm worried about.

"Maybe if I didn't have that in my game, I wouldn't have achieved as much as I have done at this age.

"I've had to look after myself for a long time in the football world. You don't want players to think they can walk all over you. So it's important you stand your ground."

Now one of Europe's most coveted young players, Alli accepts his future may lie away from White Hart Lane, but says he will not allow his mind to be clouded by thoughts of a move to a European glamour club.

"It's not really something I'm thinking about too much," he said.

"I think people get too worried about where they're going to end up and lose focus on the journey and not enjoying it. So for me as a player, I'm signed at Tottenham and I'm enjoying it.

"Whether I stay at Tottenham for the rest of my career or if I do happen to go somewhere else, I'm sure if I do go somewhere else, it will be at a time when I think that's what's needed.

"Who knows where I'm going to end up, but I'm enjoying the journey."

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