Spurs' Pochettino 'Dele Alli is Dele Alli because he's a little bit naughty'

LONDON -- Dele Alli's best form and some of his best matches for Tottenham have been punctuated by moments of controversy, but Mauricio Pochettino says his "naughty" side makes him the player he is.

Alli won PFA Young Player of the Year last season, but he was often hot-headed. He appeared to stamp on Yohan Cabaye before scoring a sublime volley in Tottenham's 3-1 win at Crystal Palace in January and, soon after, he was lucky to avoid a sending off for kicking Fiorentina's Nenad Tomovic. He was suspended for three matches for punching Claudio Yacob in April.

He started this season a little subdued, but his return to form in last weekend's 5-0 win over Swansea coincided with a dive. And he scored but clashed with CSKA Moscow players after nearly scoring when returning the ball to goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev following an injury midweek.

Pocehettino said Alli "promised he wasn't trying to score" but, when it was suggested the 20-year-old plays better "with a devil on his shoulder," the Spurs manager said: "Yes, yes, yes -- in context. Don't cross the line, but this is a little bit his identity.

"It's who is he. Dele Alli is Dele Alli because of how he is. Dele Alli is Dele Alli because he's a little bit naughty. It's his character, in a good way."

Alli left home at 13 because his mother was struggling with alcohol addiction, and for this season he changed the name on his shirt to "Dele" because he felt "no connection to the Alli surname."

Pochettino acknowledged Alli's tough upbringing but says, in spite of it, he feels Alli has matured into a thoughtful person.

"He's a brilliant boy. He has a brilliant brain, he's very smart," Pochettino said. "He is very sensitive, very intuitive because he comes from a difficult background. You can understand when you're with him, but he's a very nice person -- off the pitch!"

Alli had a hand in four of Spurs' five goals against Swansea, and he scored a fine, curling equaliser against CSKA before his header was saved and kicked over his own line by Akinfeev in a 3-1 win.

His return to form has mirrored Tottenham's, and Pochettino feels his team can now beat anyone ahead of Sunday's trip to Manchester United.

"I think he was struggling a little bit with some problems, they were small but they can affect your game and now he is recovering his form and that's important for the team, and we are improving as a collective because Harry Kane is much better and now Toby [Alderweireld] is back again, Ben Davies ... different players and when we are together, we feel that we can beat everyone," the Argentine said.

"The worst moment was [the 2-1 defeat at] Monaco -- that was tough, because we had some small problems," he added. "It was the toughest moment but from then, we start to build our confidence and belief again. I think we show against Chelsea that we deserve more in the end but we got nothing.

"But you could start to feel the answer of the team, we improve in our performance, quality and fitness and then Swansea and CSKA, we show that we start to react and start to play in a similar way to before, up to the Manchester City game."