Kevin Keegan has delivered a back-handed compliment to Dele Alli as he questioned the calibre of the players available to England.
The former Three Lions manager revealed the Spurs 22-year-old was the only man for the national team who even partly excited him.
England reached the World Cup semi-finals in the summer after Gareth Southgate was widely believed to have coaxed the maximum possible from his squad.
“I wouldn’t say any of the England players really excite me,” Keegan said at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, as quoted by the Times. “Dele Alli sometimes. He does things. Harry Kane is exciting in a different way. He reminds me a lot of Alan Shearer. But England need someone with a bit of magic like Modric or [Eden] Hazard.
“If someone gave me a football club tomorrow and said you can sign any one player in the world, I’d take Eden Hazard. He’s the next Lionel Messi. He’s almost at that level already. He has this incredible vision and the really great players have a trick.”
With just three goals in 31 international appearances, Alli has yet to completely take off for England.
He was okay without being anything special during the summer, and has yet to consistently reproduce his club form in a Three Lions shirt.
Yet, aged 22, there is a sense of plenty more to come from the 6ft 2in (source: Transfermarkt) Spurs attacking midfielder.
With 48 goals and 41 assists from 152 Tottenham appearances already under his belt, Alli is a matchwinner and gamechanger.
He does not have the magic feet of a Hazard or a Messi – nowhere near, in fact – but he is a big-match performer whose timing and runs into the box make him a real handful.
There is a sense Spurs could get more from him if they drop him back 30 yards and ask him to design the game rather than just put the finishing touch to attacks.
Alli is good enough to do that, and then even Keegan might be purring.