Mauricio Pochettino says Dele Alli is “a little bit naughty” – but wants his young midfielder to stay that way.
The 19-year-old England international could have easily been sent off in Tottenham’s 1-1 Europa League draw at Fiorentina on Thursday night after seemingly kicking out at an opponent.
Now he is ready to go up against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup fifth round at White Hart Lane on Sunday – just a month after being accused of stamping on Yohan Cabaye.
Alan Pardew claimed Alli had put the boot in on the France international in Tottenham’s 3-1 win earlier in the year.
But, after his latest misdemeanour in Florence, Pochettino has said Alli’s aggressive streak reminds him of his own playing days, and insists he likes the fact Alli has that side to his game.
“He’s a little bit naughty. But it’s good. I like it. I was like that. I was naughty like him.
“I was sent off a lot in my career. At Espanyol, in 10 years or 11 years… 13 or 14 red cards. It was a record.
“He’s calm. He played the whole second half with a yellow card. He’s clever. Like me.
“Always my first action was a yellow card, and then I played better, I always played better with a yellow card than without a yellow card.”
Alli could yet be taken out of the firing line for the visit of the out-of-form Eagles on Sunday, with Pochettino not short of options.
But one man who is almost certain to play is former Spurs striker Emmanuel Adebayor – who will be making his first return to White Hart Lane after a somewhat acrimonious departure in September.
He has since joined Palace, although Spurs still pay a portion of his wages, and Pochettino insists there was only ever good feeling between the pair despite the Togo forward not featuring in the first team all season.
“We had a very good relationship with him for one year,” he said.
“Always we spoke like men. I like him. But you know sometimes in a professional side you need to split and take a decision, but always we have a good relationship.
“We are really pleased he is at Crystal Palace and we have to focus on our game. I think our fans will give a good welcome to Ade because he played for Tottenham.
“He scored a lot of goals for Tottenham. Sometimes in football you have a good or bad period. But I think we need to show respect and make sure our fans help the team go to the next round. This is our challenge.”
Pochettino says his players will not react to the crowd’s treatment of Adebayor, or the fact he is returning to face his former team-mates, only focusing on the fact they want to remain in the hunt for three trophies.
“I think the players don’t need anything,” he added.
“They are focused on the game. It’s good to see Ade and say hello, but we are focused on the game.
“But I think our supporters are fantastic but they will only focus and try to help us win and go to the next round of the FA Cup.
“But always you need to take decisions and be professional and think about your team. It doesn’t mean you don’t have a good relationship with a player who has left the club.
“The last season for him was a very difficult one. He had a lot of personal problems and I was always available to speak with him and the relationship was fantastic.
“We spent one year together and he showed respect to us. It’s not important to look at his career. But when you take a decision to split your ways, now we show our best. But on Sunday we need to win.”