Dele Alli will get sent off if he keeps making reckless fouls and apparent dives, despite the belief he’s protected as an England player.
The Tottenham star has built an uncomfortable record for accusations of late dangerous challenges and acts of simulation, yet getting away with no red cards.
There is a growing perception that both he and Spurs colleague Harry Kane are being protected from dismissals because they are England players, with the World Cup coming up in June.
Whether or not the Football Association wants its star performers kept happy and not sent off, unless strictly necessary, remains open to conjecture.
But suspicion will grow if both continue to get away with offences that should reasonably be red cards, particularly if anyone else had committed them, or if others are punished for comparably weaker offences.
The spotlight is now on Alli in particular. He is the leading exponent of accentuating or procuring contact to flip awkwardly and look plaintively for free-kicks or penalties. Alli will surely be sent off soon, if he keeps overstepping reasonable interpretation with his fouls and falls.
It’s staggering that officials are giving such decisions, but referees are under increasing public awareness to act. Interestingly, given Tottenham’s European campaign and the World Cup, international refs seem to be less easily swayed or protective.
Only recently Alli caught Kevin de Bruyne very late at the Etihad and followed it up with a similar reckless foul on Charlie Taylor at Burnley. There was no red card for either offence. At Turf Moor, Alli soon added salt to the wound at 0-0 when he went down dramatically to earn Spurs a penalty.
Simulation is starting to be punished, but what could have been a second yellow card for Alli was instead a penalty for Spurs that saw them go on to win 3-0. Kane scored a hat-trick, but he wouldn’t have played if he’d correctly been sent off for a late reckless foul on Raheem Sterling at the Etihad.
Both of Kane and Alli should have seen red at City, but neither did. That didn’t help Spurs in Manchester, as they still lost 4-1, but it certainly helped them at Burnley. The failure to give red cards where called for has a triple impact.
Firstly, it fails to punish the offence, the offender and the offending team, hence failing to protect the opponent. Secondly, it fails to impose clarity that such offences will not be tolerated, hence suggesting that others can get away with reckless tackles. And thirdly, future opponents have to face players who should rightly have been banned.
No player should have to be mangled with a gross injury for dangerous play to be recognised and punished. This should be the case for any player, of any team. No favouritism, no protection. Both de Bruyne and Sterling could have badly-broken legs right now.
While Kane and Alli went without dismissal, Southampton’s Charlie Austin has been banned for three games retrospectively, for catching Huddersfield keeper Jonas Lossl on the face with a brief follow-through. It’s hard to say if the act was an accident or sly, but one thing appears clear.
If players want to avoid being dismissed for red card offences, or gain yellows for simulation that could lead to a red, make sure you play for England in a World Cup season.