England’s apparently smooth progression to the finals of next year’s World Cup has hit an unexpected hurdle following a gesture made by midfielder Dele Alli.
The Spurs star raised a single, middle finger in the direction of French referee Clement Turpin during his country’s 2-1 victory at home to Slovenia.
The incident occurred during the second half of the match, which saw England move five points clear of opponents in their group.
Alli was attempting to get on the end of a through pass when he tangled with Slovakia defender Martin Skrtel. The two came into contact with each other, Alli clearly feeling he was fouled.
As the game moved on, he got back to his feet, but as play stopped for another incident he was picked up on camera raising and holding his middle finger aloft, in the direction of the referee. It was unclear whether the gesture was spotted by the official, although if seen it would likely have earned Alli a yellow, or more probably, straight red card.
The player can expect retrospective punishment if the incident appears in the referee’s report, or if it turns out that he did not see the event at the time.
Alli claims that he was, in fact, gesturing in the direction of team mate and former Spurs defender Kyle Walker. He said that the two liked a banter, and this was a normal way of communicating.
Certainly, footage of the incident suggests that this could have been what was happening. Walker is seen backing away over the half way line as Alli heads towards the middle of the park. He is then seen raising his arms as though to express uncertainty as to the reason for Alli’s gesture.
Pundits after the match offered mixed views. Former Manchester United and Wales winger Ryan Giggs said that he admired Alli for playing on the edge. Whilst not condoning the actions, he felt that England needed players who had the passion of the young midfielder.
Sky Sports commentator Ray Wilkins thinks that Alli will regret the gesture, whoever it was aimed at. With cameras trained on players throughout a match of this magnitude, anything that has the potential to be judged wrong-doing will be caught and exposed.
England Manager Gareth Southgate said after the game that he had not seen the incident, but would look into the matter.
It is unclear what the punishment will be for Alli if the matter is investigated further by FIFA. Law 12 states that a yellow card is issued for ‘Dissent by word or action’, but also states that ‘Using offensive or abusive language and/or gestures’ is a red card offence. It is possible that, because the gesture was caught on live TV, he could face further charges if he is judged to have damaged the reputation of the sport.
Whether the gesture was aimed at the referee or a team mate, it was evidently something done in the heat of the moment which the player may well now be regretting as he awaits his fate.
He could potentially miss England’s remaining qualifiers and the opening match of the World Cup itself, in the likely event that his side does qualify, as a result of one bad decision in a match where he played well.
Alli does have a growing record of reacting with frustration when he perceives injustice. He was sent off against Belgian side Gent for a terrible tackle after things started going against his team last season. Spurs could not recover and were knocked out of the Europa League.
This followed a retrospective three match ban after he punched a player during the season before.
It would be a great shame for England and himself if his reaction following Skrtel’s tackle means that he misses important matches for his country.