Mind games: Rooney shows Alli that it's possible to control red mist

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The Spurs midfielder picks up yellow cards regularly, but remains one of his team's best players under Mauricio Pochettino

Dele Alli loves playing the pantomime villain and, in recent weeks, his dark side has again been on show.

Last season, the England international saw red for a gruesome tackle in a Europa League encounter with Gent, leading to a three-match Champions League ban, while he has also regularly been accused of going to ground too easily.

He was booked for simulation against Huddersfield Town earlier this season, prompting  former referee Graham Poll to claimed that the attacking midfielder "can't stop cheating".

In Spurs’ final game before Christmas at Burnley, Alli was accused of diving to win a penalty which Harry Kane converted. In the same match, he flew into an early challenge that many at Turf Moor saw as a red card. He was only booked, but the locals turned on him instantly, jeering his every touch, and abusing him when he was substituted in the second half.

Neither the incident nor the crowd reaction impacted upon his performance, though, as he provided two assists for hat-trick hero Kane in a 3-0 win.

However, if one also factors in a poor challenge on Kevin de Bruyne the week before, in Spurs’ 4-1 defeat at Manchester City, then it’s easy to see why the spotlight has once again been intensely focused on the 21-year-old.

Dele Alli Tottenham

Alli is a player who often balances light with dark, as though he has an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.

He is, by far, Spurs’ most fouled player (56 fouls) but he has also conceded more fouls (26) than any of his team-mates. Alli gets kicked, but he kicks back and, while his effectiveness has improved, he remains prone to lapses of judgement.

Widely criticised for letting his standards slip after Spurs’ memorable 3-1 win over Real Madrid at Wembley at the start of November, Alli has undergone something of a renaissance in form in recent weeks, at the same time his negative traits have come back to the fore.

In his last six appearances, Alli has been directly involved in six goals – four assists and two goals – to firm up the belief that he would be less of a player if the devilment was taken out of his game.

Supporters often forget how difficult it can be to replicate a brilliant individual performance week in, week out, and Alli’s performances post-Madrid, when seen through the lens of hindsight, could be attributed to fatigue, both mental and physical.

Dele Alli Mauricio Pochettino Tottenham

As Daniel Abrahams , sports psychologist to the England rugby team, explains, it is folly to expect players to continually repeat their individual heroics.

Talking exclusively to Goal , he said: "A brilliant performance is hard to replicate because of the many variables related to the game and the player. No two games are alike and thus the role a player may be asked to carry out might not allow players to express themselves.

“The toughest challenge is the personal one. There are many reasons why people tend to perform inconsistently, but I point to what I call the three Ms - mood, motivation and movement. Mood goes up and down and impacts a player's perception of the game, the same with motivation.

“And for movement, what many people don't realise is that our nervous system is designed to function inconsistently. Movement varies moment to moment, let alone day to day.”

Alli’s recent form, however, suggests that he is in the mood to create, and has the motivation to repay the faith shown in him by both the Spurs support and Mauricio Pochettino.

As a game with Everton at Wembley looms on Saturday, there is an obvious comparison to be made with former England captain Wayne Rooney.

A teenager when he burst on the scene, Rooney was prone to outbursts of outright rage on the pitch.

Of course, his most infamous transgression came at the 2006 World Cup, when he stamped on Portugal's Ricardo Carvalho and was shown a red card for his troubles. The quarter-final tie finished 0-0 and England were knocked out on penalties.

Wayne Rooney Everton

It seemed a natural conclusion to his fiery playing style. In the four seasons leading up to that World Cup, Rooney was sent off twice and booked 36 times.

Yet both David Moyes and Sir Alex Ferguson noticed that the fire that burned inside the forward was integral to Rooney's being.

Even as he has grown older, he has never truly curbed that side of his game: he is still petulant at times, and he still gets booked, but he has brought those urges under control to a degree. He was last sent off in 2014, and is now a key player for Everton under Sam Allardyce.

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Alli’s abilities and physique are different to Rooney’s – the former is lithe where the latter was stocky and bullish – but they both have that hot-headed streak that can both win and lose a football match.

Rooney, now 32, has had a career few can dream of, despite his occasional walks on the wild side, and that is something Alli can learn from.

As Alli grows as a player, the questionable challenges and controversial moments should gradually become less frequent as he tries to turn negative press into trophy success.

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