Dele Alli Talks Goal Celebrations, Social Media, And Coping With Pressure

Ronaldinho's snaking flip-flap, Jay-Jay Okocha's ankle-breaking ball-roll, Robinho's mesmeric stepovers - players at the top level are capable of producing moments of truly mind-bending artistry that prompts the question: How the hell did they do that?

And then there's Dele Alli's goal celebration. Slow it down, watch it on repeat, Google 'how to do the Dele Alli goal celebration' - nothing can explain the confusing configuration of fingers around his twinkling eye. It makes Ronaldinho's footwork look as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.

Ever since the Tottenham midfielder revealed the celebration to the world after scoring the second goal in a 2-1 win over Newcastle United on the opening day of the Premier League season it's been melting the brains of everyone from your nan to Olly Murs.

"I was really surprised at how far it went, so quickly," Dele tells SPORTbible, sitting in the Billy Wright changing room at St George's Park, England's national football centre, sporting a fresh trim from his personal barber Justin Carr.

"Within a couple of days I'd had people from all over the world asking me how to do it."

One of them wasn't talkSPORT's Adrian Durham - a trusted lieutenant from the fraternity of old-school pundits - a group of grumpy old men who simmer with rage when exposed to the modern footballer's use of social media and penchant for choreographed goal-celebrations.

Durham labelled anyone trying the celebration a 'bozo' and set Dele a new challenge. "Get your fingers into a clenched fist, both hands," fumed the radio host. "Open them halfway and then pretend you're lifting up a trophy! Why not try doing that? Wouldn't that be a good idea?"

Dele can't help but laugh when he reflects on this angry response. "You have to take this sort of reaction lightheartedly," he chuckles. "Everyone has an opinion and I'm just having a bit of fun. It's 2018 and it's a just goal celebration."

It is. But it's also a baffling contortion of digits, which once again prompts the question: How the hell do you do it? Dele sat down with SPORTbible to finally reveal the secret behind his sleight of hand, how he copes with the pressure of being an elite footballer and the determination to fill his trophy cabinet with winners' medals.

Image: H&S
Image: H&S

Your goal celebration against Newcastle United caused quite a stir. Where did it come from?

"It all started at the World Cup. Jamie Vardy's kids showed me how to do it. After the World Cup I went on holiday with my friends and they were all trying to do it and it was just a good laugh and I said to one of my friends, "I'm going to do it [in a game] to remember the holiday and good times with my friend." After I did it against Newcastle I went out for dinner with Danny Welbeck and he told me Jesse's [Lingard] brother had taught Vardy's kid so I don't actually know where it's come from or who made it up. [SPORTbible asks Dele to do it and he obliges]. There's a part two, I don't know if you've seen it, part two is difficult [Dele shows SPORTbible part two]. [What was your favourite attempt by a celebrity? asks SPORTbible] There's a lot of funny ones - they all start off like this [imitates people trying to do the celebration incorrectly]. They always get confused."

Now that's out of the way let's go back to where it all started. When you first fell in love with football. What are your first memories of playing?

"I first started playing football when I was five or six - I used to play with older guys in a car park outside my house in Milton Keynes and I fell in love with it straight away. We used two of the big trees as goalposts so it was quite a big goal and easier to score then [laughs]. Playing against bigger kids helped my game a lot because when I was 16 I started playing first-team football for Milton Keynes and I had already adapted my game to play against older people."

How has street football helped shape you as a player?

"It has helped shape me as a player a lot because it's about manipulating the opponent, trying to create your own space and working in tight areas so when you get into an 11-a-side game you can be more creative."

Can you explain how much work goes into becoming a professional footballer at the top level?

"A lot of dedication is required. From an early age you're playing academy football and travelling up and down the country. There are lot of ups and downs. You can have a bad game and it feels like the end of the world, or you don't start or you even get released. They might not sound that serious, but when you've been working towards something your whole life these little things can have an effect on you and you have to have the right mentality to keep working hard, focusing and trying to become the best player you can be."

How do you stay focused when you're young and you're not necessarily mature enough to make good decisions?

"It's difficult to understand all the things you have to drop to become a professional footballer. You have to be a 24 hour professional and dedicated from such an early age. It's hard when you're in school trying to find the right balance and understanding what's right and wrong. When you're a kid and your friends want to go out, you have to miss out and go to training - you don't want to go training because you want to go and have fun, but you have to understand that you have to focus. When you get older the things your friends want to do are a little bit different and they want to go out and party, but you can't go because you have to have an early night because you have a game the next day and you have to be at the right level to compete."

When you look back on what you've achieved so far, who have been the big influences on your career?

"There's a lot of people I have to thank for where I am now. Dan Micciche from MK Dons was a massive influence on me - he had me at a crucial moment in my career [12 to 16 years old]. There are a lot of distractions when you're a kid and it can go a lot of different ways, but he helped me through a lot in a coaching sense and as a person. He helped me to mature and obviously when I went to the first team, Karl Robinson was a big influence. All the coaches I had between the ages of 12 to 18 helped me in a different ways. Karl Robinson helped me a lot when I started playing with the first team. He helped me to develop my game in a different way to what Dan did then since I came to Tottenham Mauricio Pochettino has put a lot of trust in me, helped me to keep that hunger I always had and to keep wanting to improve."

Once you make it as a professional you then have pressure and criticism coming at you from all angles. How do you deal with that?

"With social media and TV everyone has an opportunity to have their say on the way you play. It's great as long as you handle it right. [Scratches head, raises eyebrows in thought] You have to choose what your focus is. If you're focusing on the being the best player you can be and trying to achieve as much as you can and having trust in the right people then it's easy to block that negativity out. If you listen to the people around you, like your family and your friends, coaches and people that are giving you advice in the right way and know you as a person, it's quite easy to block out all the other people's opinions. If you take it in the right way it can help you too."

How do you not react to some of the spiteful comments on social media?

"Sometimes you'll see something and you want to react to it, but you know it's just silly to do that. You don't really need to answer it - just let your football do the talking. I only listen to criticism if it comes from my manager, coaches or family."

Is there a popular misconception about you that you want to set straight?

"That's a difficult question [pauses] because I don't really focus on what people say on social media. It's hard to say because there's a lot of different opinions [scratches head and looks away, thinking about how he should answer this question] and the people who say them don't really know you as a person or what your focus is or what you care about so it's hard to say.

You're two different characters on and off the pitch. You seem relaxed and fun off it, but once the whistle blows you're a real competitor - intense and fiesty. Can you explain that switch in mindset?

It's very difficult to be the same person on the pitch as you are off it. When you're not playing you want to be nice and polite and treat everyone with respect and to be known for being a good person, but when you're on the pitch you want to win and you sort of lose track of those things and just focus on winning and trying to be the best."

Now onto the important business of winning. What do Tottenham and England need to do to reach the next level and win a major trophy?

"The next step for us at Tottenham is trying to focus on consistency because I think there's a lot of games where we show how good we are, but we just don't maintain that level. For England, it's very similar, because we're both young teams, both play very similar football - wanting to press high and win the ball back and dominate possession. We [England] need to play more games against the best teams in the world - we know what we're capable of and we can't put any limits on what we can achieve as a team. I feel like we can go very far. The ultimate aim for us is to win a major tournament, which we want to do for ourselves and the fans. We need keep improving and working hard every day in training whilst we're together and bonding as a team."

Individually what do you want to improve?

"There's a lot for me to look at in my position because I'm involved in every area of the pitch - people expect you to score, assist and defend. There isn't one main aim, but as an attack-minded player I want to keep getting goals and assists."

If you were speaking to a young Dele what advice would you give him?

"My advice would be enjoy playing football, don't worry about what anyone says and don't beat yourself up if you're not doing well at that age. Failure can be the best opportunity to improve yourself as a person and as a player."

Dele was speaking at the announcement of Head & Shoulders' two year partnership with the FA. Head & Shoulders is the new Official Haircare Partner of the England Teams. #GoScalpBrave to show your support for the Three Lions - visit www.headandshoulders.com

Next Up

arrow-down arrow-left arrow-right arrow-up camera clock comment cursor facebook-messenger facebook Instagram link new-window play share snapchat submit twitter vine whatsapp ODDSbible