Jose Mourinho didn’t do much to hide his belief Anthony Martial’s future lay somewhere other than Manchester United. While the Portuguese saw the natural ability in the player, there was something about Martial’s character that wasn’t to Mourinho’s liking. “He is a boy with a different personality,” Mourinho explained in an interview last year.
Of course, Martial has since flourished under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, finishing the 2019/20 campaign with 21 goals in all competitions after being converted into a centre forward, with the United number nine shirt to prove it. Mourinho’s treatment of the Frenchman was, according to the player himself, a motivating factor.
“It's true that I'd have preferred it if he'd told me directly, there's no need to say it in front of everybody,” Martial explained.
After that, you definitely want to prove him wrong.
Dele Alli likely knows how Martial felt. While Mourinho has held back on the sort of public attacks he subjected Martial to as Manchester United boss, Alli finds himself ostracised at Tottenham Hotspur, making just one Premier League and four appearances in total so far this season.
One of those rare appearances came in the underwhelming Europa League defeat to Antwerp last week, with Alli withdrawn at half time by an angry Mourinho.
“It's fair to say that players with bad performances influence the team but also a team influences individual performances,” the Spurs boss said afterwards, refusing to directly mention Alli, but clearly referencing him.
José Mourinho (Tottenham)
Image credit: Getty Images
You know what our best team is. I always like to think the players deserve an opportunity. We have a big squad with lots of good players. It's my responsibility to give them opportunities but it's also their opportunity to catch the chance with both hands and ask for more. Tonight shows my future choices are going to be very easy.
These comments only added to the speculation Alli could soon be on his way out of Spurs. Reports surfaced late on in the summer transfer window that Paris Saint-Germain were interested in taking the 24-year-old on loan, offering the first real indication that his exile from the first team was down to more than just a dip in form.
A loan to PSG failed to materialise, but there is already much discussion over a potential January move. Before considering offers for Alli, though, Tottenham must look at the example of Martial and how Manchester United ultimately made the right decision not to sell Martial as Mourinho desired, with the French forward now one of their best players.
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Alli’s natural ability is obvious. It’s been obvious from the moment he arrived at Spurs from MK Dons, making a near immediate impact at Premier League level. On raw talent alone, Alli is up there with Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling at the vanguard of his generation.
If Alli has a flaw it’s in his lack of a clear position. He is neither an orthodox midfielder nor an orthodox forward. He is somewhere in the middle and this has seen Mourinho struggle to fit him into a side where players are expected to be well-versed in the responsibilities of their position. Alli doesn’t fit into Mourinho’s way of thinking. He likes defenders to be defenders, midfielders to be midfielders and forwards to be forwards, and the 24-year-old blurs positional lines.
By his nature, Mourinho won’t be at Tottenham forever, though. The north London club would be maintaining a stake in the future by keeping Alli, even if it means tolerating having a player of such market value on the periphery of the team. This is what Manchester United did with Martial and Spurs should do similar with Alli.