HE’S the best 21-year-old footballer on the planet, according to his club boss Mauricio Pochettino.
But whether Dele Alli makes England’s starting XI at the World Cup could be a very different matter.
The England manager’s decision to employ a back three — which worked well in Friday’s encouraging 1-0 win in Holland — is one of the few things set in stone, less than three months away from Russia.
Either the 3-5-2 Southgate employed in Amsterdam or a 3-4-3 will put the squeeze on Dele, reducing by one the number of attacking players.
So, in effect, just two of Dele, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Adam Lallana can play off Harry Kane in England’s World Cup opener with Tunisia in Volgograd on June 18.
You might think Dele’s understanding with Kane at club level still makes him a nailed-on starter but that is far from certain.
You may also believe England have such a dearth of potential world-class talent that Dele could not possibly be benched.
Yet Southgate is not afraid to make left-field decisions. Southgate talked up Sterling’s performance in Amsterdam, while the Manchester City forward has been in excellent form all season.
Despite an injury-ravaged campaign, Lallana remains a firm favourite of Southgate’s, while Rashford would give the Three Lions an added goal threat playing off the left.
And Lingard’s winner in Amsterdam, allied with his strong club form for Manchester United, is pressing his case for a starting berth.
The popular narrative is that young players thrive under Pochettino at Tottenham but are stunted and regress under Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford.
Yet Lingard has blossomed under the Portuguese while Dele’s form has not been as consistent as in his previous two top-flight campaigns.
There is a feeling that the Spurs star is not living up to his celebrity often enough and that he has been distracted by off-field trappings.
Some reckon that Pochettino bigging him up is the last thing the player needs.
Dele will start against Italy, in England’s final match before Southgate names his 23-man party for Russia — and he needs to give the manager a reminder of his capabilities.
Southgate is no respecter of reputations. He showed that by freezing out Wayne Rooney at the start of his reign, while he has also shelved ‘big names’ such as Theo Walcott, Chris Smalling and most recently Gary Cahill.
Of course, Dele will go to Russia but whether he starts there is a different matter. Elsewhere, Friday’s win, with an experimental team, gave us more questions than answers.
Will Kyle Walker (above) play at right wing-back, as previously assumed, or does he now become one of the back three after such an impressive display there against the Dutch?
Eric Dier had been expected to slot into defence but will he now partner Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson in central midfield?
And does Danny Rose, previously a certain starter, have the form and fitness to make the squad ahead of Ryan Bertrand and Ashley Young, after wasting too many attacking opportunities in Amsterdam?
Southgate talked up Jordan Pickford, who came outside his area to play the initial pass in the move which led to Lingard’s winner.
But the Everton keeper was shaky on a couple of occasions. Is he the No 1 for the tournament?
Harry Maguire looks assured of a squad place after the manager talked up the Leicester defender as a ‘top player’.
And he also suggested that he is looking for the versatility of Walker, Dier and Young to allow him to include fewer centre-backs.
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This means rookies James Tarkowski and Alfie Mawson face an uphill struggle to reach Russia even if they get to feature against Italy.
In midfield, another new boy, Bournemouth’s Lewis Cook, may have a better chance of gatecrashing the party after Jack Wilshere’s latest injury.
And let’s not rule out Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who could also force his way back in having impressed Southgate in the autumn.
Up front, there’s a distinct lack of back-up options to Kane at No 9.
All in all, it’s about as clear as mud — not least for Dele.