London Evening Standard
Karl Robinson is not given to making extravagant claims about the many young players he has brought through but the MK Dons manager is convinced Dele Alli is very special.
Two weeks ago, Tottenham agreed to pay an initial £5million for one of the most highly rated talents outside of the Premier League, although the 18-year-old is remaining on loan at the League One club for the rest of the season.
“I’ve heard people say he could be a Steven Gerrard or Patrick Vieira,” says Robinson. “He’s six foot two, a natural eight and there’s something about him: tremendous athleticism, tenacity and drive. He does most things. He’s ready. He has 13 goals and five assists, above any 18-year-old this League has seen. He also dominates games at an international level for his own age.”
Then Robinson recalls the moment he became convinced Alli would be a star. He said: “I told my dad, ‘I want you to watch the Under-16s. I need to show you this kid’. It was only 10 to 15 minutes into the game when my dad asked, ‘Is that the boy there in midfield?’ I said, ‘Yeah’.”
Although Robinson describes Alli as a “fantastic person, a diamond”, it has not all been plain sailing.
The 34-year-old admits: “Have I had to get him in the office and shout at him? Yeah. Because he needs to learn sometimes, whether it be recovery, sleep patterns, schooling, homework.”
Clearly, Mauricio Pochettino will not have to worry about Alli’s homework but he has already stressed the need for his new player “to stay calm and play for his team like before”.
Robinson says that is not a concern and revealed the Spurs boss will visit MK Dons shortly.
“He wants to know what makes Dele tick and what he needs to do,” says Robinson. “He has seen him play and Tottenham are speaking to us on a constant basis regarding his development. Alli will not lose his head now that he is a Tottenham player. No chance.”
Then, with refreshing modesty, Robinson adds: “I don’t want to take any credit. This is all the boy. All we’ve done is give him an opportunity. I hear many coaches say I did this, I did that. I cannot make an average player a good player. The ones who I’ve seen come through all have that self-drive. All we do is we give them the tools to develop.”
Robinson’s own record over five years at MK Dons can hardly be faulted; never outside the top 10, two play-off appearances and fighting for promotion this time with his team third in the table.
In addition, he has a knack of big wins in Cup competitions against Premier League sides: QPR, Norwich and, in August, Manchester United. “That was surreal,” he says. “To look up to the scoreboard and see 4-0. It was something that we’ll never, ever forget.”
With results such as that it is no surprise Robinson, along with 37-year-old Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe, is often mentioned when clubs are looking for young managers who could make the step up into the big time.
Robinson has turned down offers from Championship clubs and has been linked with Crystal Palace, QPR, Newcastle and Aston Villa when vacancies have emerged at those clubs this season. Robinson (above) says it is his dream to manage in the top flight but would like to complete his education abroad and that could start in the summer. “Five years in one club is a long time. I can’t predict where I’ll be next year.”
Robinson was 30 when he became the youngest manager in the Football League and although his appointment left him “scared” the knowledge he picked up under Sam Allardyce at Blackburn helped him deal with those fears. He says: “Sam did an awful lot for me. He taught me so much about the tactical side of it. He’s been amazing. I’m very close to Sam.
“He was good at identifying what he had and playing that way. Sam has been tarnished as a long-ball merchant but look at his Bolton side: Ivan Campo, Fernando Hierro, Youri Djorkaeff, Jay Jay Okocha, El Hadji Diouf, Nicholas Anelka.”
Allardyce came in for some criticism from supporters on Saturday as his West Ham side crashed out of the FA Cup 4-0 at West Brom.
But Robinson said: “He just takes it on board. Sam never worries about things like that. He just does his job and lives for today not tomorrow. In any case, English managers are probably the ones that get the most criticism.
“You’re just meant to take it on the chin. I get an awful lot of criticism for being fat and from Liverpool.”
Being the manager of MK Dons also earns him flak. Wimbledon fans are still furious over the way their team were moved from Plough Lane to Milton Keynes 12 years ago, leading to the demise of their club.
“I understand the anger but you can’t accuse the son for his father’s actions,” he adds.