JUST six or so months ago, Dele Alli was plying his trade in League One. One of his last goals for Milton Keynes Dons, in fact, came during a defeat to Bradford City at Valley Parade.
Now, though, the teenager is a name on many lips after an impressive start to life among the elite of English football was this week capped by a goal on his international debut.
Alli’s first Three Lions strike was something special, too. After winning possession via a crunching tackle on Morgan Schneiderlin, the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder gave club-mate Hugo Lloris no chance at all with a ferocious 20-yard shot that flew over the France captain and into the net. Amid the sorrow and emotion of Tuesday night’s friendly at Wembley, it was a moment of footballing beauty to cling to and one that even Alli admits is yet to truly sink in.
“Words can’t describe the feeling,” said the 19-year-old, who moved to White Hart Lane from stadium:mk in January but was then loaned back to spearhead what proved, ultimately, to be a successful promotion push by the Dons.
“It was a dream come true. To do it at Wembley and score my first goal for England was a great moment for me.
“It has been a crazy start to the season and it has all happened really quickly.
“I never really started thinking about England (after joining Spurs).
“I knew if I played well for my club then the England opportunity would come, and thankfully it has. But my main focus was at the club and it was a proud moment to represent my country.”
On a night when the toll of a traumatic few days seemed to finally hit the French players, the result – a 2-0 win for Roy Hodgson’s men – was largely irrelevant.
Still, from a football perspective, there were positives to glean for the Three Lions. Chief among those was the display of Alli, who also had a leading role in England’s second goal as Wayne Rooney volleyed in from close range just after the interval.
In terms of staking an early claim for Euro 2016 – where, it was confirmed yesterday, England will avoid Spain, Germany and Belgium in the group stages – Alli made a persuasive case.
And he was quick to praise Mauricio Pochettino, who at both Spurs and Southampton has proved willing to give youth a chance.
Alli said: “He is a great manager and he puts a lot of trust in young English players. It is a great thing for English football.
“It is a great platform for the club and it shows what we are about.
“He is a great guy, really passionate, and he cares about the players. If you have got any problems he has always there for you.
“I can already tell that from the short time I have been there. He puts a lot of trust into youngsters which is obviously really good for me.”
All’s rapid ascent from the Milton Keynes midfield to the international stage has come on the back of hugely impressive fitness levels.
“I won a few of the things, yes,” said Alli when asked about how he fares in training alongside his Spurs team-mates.
“Long distance running, I did quite well in. I have still got a lot to learn and improve on but cardio comes naturally to me and I was able to show that in pre-season. But I still had a lot to do when the football started and I had to play well.”