It’s a stunning moment. Dele at full tilt pulls down the ball and strokes it into the net in a blur. Strokes, mind you. Not blasted, not bobbled, or sliced, but stroked. From the time the ball leaves Dier’s foot, a pass of such accuracy and dip that Glenn Hoddle would truly have been proud, (there is no greater praise), Dele is the master of the situation.
Out of the blue it came, falling from the sky. Except it wasn’t, out of the blue I mean, because Dele was off on his little run as Dier moved onto the ball. Both knew what was coming. From the comfort of my sofa, I just shook my head in wonder. So good, it was beyond celebration.
He jogged away, and smiled. Couldn’t resist cupping his hand behind his ear as he trotted unavoidably close to the home fans. Still 21, world at his feet, he can appear furtive and cunning as he runs into the box or gets stuck into a tackle. He knows what he’s doing when he goes over, or, sometimes, goes in high. But he charms his way into supporters’ hearts. With a nod to Barry Davies, just look at his face. Before he’s buried by jubilant team-mates, he delights in the goal like a little boy who has found the most chocolate in the Easter egg hunt. This is no rockstar preening or macho posturing, this is a kid come out to play.
We’re not very good with young people in this country. We say we want them to express themselves but when they do, we demand they know their place. Perhaps we’re envious of their fresh ideas, different ways of seeing things. Envious of their youth, that their time is yet to come when our future lies behind us. But every generation complains about the behaviour and attitude of young people. Their different ways, the fact they answer back.
This season, the difficult third season, Dele as a sign that he is an established figure in English football has been presented with his own narrative, comprising two elements. One, he’s a cheat. Yes, he dives, I don’t like it, partly because I’m old-fashioned and don’t like diving, mainly because looking for a foul shows that his thought-process is not fully focused on his game. He’s largely got rid of that backing into defenders looking for a foul thing he did. I’d prefer one touch and a five yard pass, if it keeps possession. But there’s a narrative. No matter the penalties he’s not given, or that he is one of the most fouled players in the division, or that – gasp – other players dive to, one of the most talented English young players gets booed as soon as he touches the ball.
Lately, he has also had to contend with being told he is off-form. If anything, to me this is his best season. Until yesterday, there have been fewer sensational moments, although let’s not forget he did alright versus Real Madrid. This has been more than outweighed by his hard, purposeful running, support for team-mates, his passing and clever use of space. His role is slightly different because Son is scoring frequently. He’s maturing, as you would expect, but without apparently getting much credit, except from the man who matters most, his manager.
I rarely comment directly on media stuff – there’s no conspiracy against Spurs or any other side, and anyway Jamie Redknapp’s secondhand opinions aren’t worth the effort it takes to press the keys to write ‘twat’. But young people should be valued and looked after. I’m sick of it. Dele moving into space used to be praised to the skies as a sign of his quality and intelligence. Now, the same thing is derided as his supposed lack of impact on the game. All brewing nicely for his role as world cup scapegoat. Instead of caring for our young players, we build them up then find something to demolish them, just when they need recognition in their own right as individuals. He suffers because he’s young, smart, English and plays for Spurs. Some fans see that as sin incarnate.
Yesterday, Dele answered back. This is me, this is what I can do. I was so pleased for him. Not that he needs anything more from me. Spurs’ third, his second. Mayhem in the box, bodies flying, chance looked to have gone. Everyone’s blasting it. Dele, one touch, no more than a single revolution of the ball, under control, left to right and that foot made enough space to shoot and score. The presence of mind to do that. This is what he can do.
Enough of Dele. This was a victory for teamwork, this wonderful, spirited, focused and creative group of players. Spurs began well enough, taking the game to Chelsea and making busy patterns in their half. Lamela was prominent, working with purpose, chasing back and looking for those dangerous ten-yard angled passes into channels. Dele and Eriksen tirelessly sought space, but there was little as the Blues bunched in centre midfield.
Chelsea made ground down either flank, Davies was under most pressure as he tried to both tuck inside and cover wide. He couldn’t be in two places at the same time. A cross from the right was perfect for Morata’s head, too high for Sanchez and, sadly, for Lloris, who mistakenly came and watched it fail even to scrape his fingertips.
Spurs looked lost but Eriksen would not rest. Twice he moved onto the ball to shoot from range. The first thudded into the keeper’s chest, the second was unstoppable. I mean unstoppable, genuinely. A few metres from the goal, it was still well above the bar, until it dipped and dropped home.
We saw again a feature of Spurs’ success this season, second half rejuvenation. We picked up the beat and were the better side throughout. A little tweak and Moses and Alonso had less room to move, while keeping our attacking options and flow. Then there was Dele.
My imagination or did both Lamela and Eriksen begin their goal celebrations for the third only after admonishing Son for not crossing to them. They’re hungry for more despite the win. Vertonghen and Sanchez tremendous again at the back, Jan a tiger in the tackle, Sanchez managed Hazard well. Chelsea looked spent after the third goal, their manager unable to motivate them to play for each other in the same way than Pochettino can for Spurs.
Beating Chelsea feels good, and there’s no escaping the significance of the result and performance as Spurs continue to build a side to challenge the best. From within they found the resilience to come back from being a goal down to play their best football when under the most pressure. It’s the stuff winners are made of.