IT was when they showed the widescreen shot of Dele Alli appearing to raise his middle finger in the direction of Kyle Walker, rather than the referee, that you began to worry.
That sick feeling you get in your stomach when you suspect we’re going to be hearing far too much about the precise angle of intention of a raised digit.
It will feel like the Warren Commission into the assassination of President John F Kennedy, which studied entry and exit wounds in the victim’s neck and cranium, worked out the trajectory of the bullets and ruled that the killer must have been stationed in the window of the Texas School Book Depository rather than on the grassy knoll.
And the FA will doubtless hire a learned professor of human communication, testifying to the legitimacy of an obscene gesture being used as ‘banter’ in modern-day youth culture.
And then you’ll just want to scream out: “Aaaarrrrggghhh! Why can’t it just be about the football?”
It always seems to be this way whenever England unearths a player blessed with the natural gifts capable of making him a world great.
And in terms of innate creative talent, only Paul Gascoigne and Wayne Rooney can compare with Dele among English footballers to have emerged since 1966.
Yet the fear is that, much like Gascoigne and Rooney, we’re going to spend so much time debating Dele’s on-and-off field behaviour that one day we will find ourselves wondering exactly how great a footballer he might have been without all the nonsense.
Dele probably won’t end up being banned for the opening game or two of his maiden World Cup (and remember that Gascoigne only ever played in one but that English football was revolutionised as a result).
But by raising his middle finger with an apparently angry expression on his face during Monday’s qualifying victory over Slovakia, Dele has genuinely risked a four-match Fifa ban.
That panoramic shot does appear to back up Dele’s daft-sounding explanation that he had been joking with team-mate Walker rather than showing dissent towards French ref-eree Clement Turpin.
But at best it was an ill-advised bit of ‘bantz’.
SIX OTHER RUDE BOYS
QUENELLE ARM GESTURE
In 2014 the West Brom striker performed a goal celebration that related to black French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala.
The entertainer had been arrested for inciting racial hatred against Jews — as a result, Anelka received a five-match ban and was fined £80,000.
After Everton fans had taunted Fowler during a 1999 Merseyside derby at Anfield for his reported drug use, the Englishman celebrated by mimicking snorting cocaine on the white lines of the pitch.
The striker was whacked with a four-match ban and fined £60,000 by the FA.
DAVID BECKHAM MIDDLE FINGER
Following abuse from his own fans after the 3-2 loss to Portugal in Euro 2000, including the chant “I hope your kid dies of cancer”, Becks flicked a finger.
He was backed by then Three Lions boss Kevin Keegan and Uefa for his actions, while the FA re-assessed player security.
BARRY FERGUSON/ALLAN McGREGOR’S V-SIGNS
The duo got life bans (later overturned) from representing Scotland after being caught in a 2009 World Cup qualifier against Iceland making V-signs.
Ferguson (right) and McGregor had been benched after going on a late-night drinking session following a loss to Holland.
The Aston Villa keeper displayed a Nazi salute to Tottenham fans during a game in 1996 — he had been jeered for his history with Spurs’ German legend Jurgen Klinsmann.
The Aussie was fined £1,000 and later tried to claim it had been a reference to UK TV series Fawlty Towers.
PAUL GASCOIGNE FLUTE
In a 1998 Old Firm derby, Rangers’ Gazza mimicked playing the flute against Celtic — referencing a loyalist band member playing The Sash.
He was fined £40,000 by the SFA, received death threats from the IRA, and was warned by police to board up his windows and check his car for bombs.
And anyway, all Englishmen should deplore Dele’s use of the Americanised single-digit salute, displacing the traditional two-finger version which dates back to the archers who inspired Henry V’s boys to a crucial away win at Agincourt.
But again we digress . . .
Like Rooney and Gascoigne before him, Dele is getting to the stage where he’s almost become a great footballer only to risk being overwhelmed by guff.
We’re already seeing the Tottenham man competing in half a dozen different sports in BT adverts, while wondering whether he ought to have properly mastered the football first.
Gareth Southgate claimed Dele’s performance against Slovakia had been his best in an England shirt, which underlines exactly how poor his international performances have been compared with Spurs displays which frequently hint at genius.
Dele could also do without ex-pros offering up the weasel old cliche that all great players need to operate ‘on the edge’ — as they had done when he punched West Brom’s Claudio Yacob and kicked out at a Gent player.
Let’s not market Dele as some sort of phoney ‘character’ — the silly wave he does on the internet, the Agadoo goal celebration and now the man giving it the finger — at least until he is the complete article as a player.
We don’t want the PR men to dominate, as with Gazza’s Fog On The Tyne song and Daft As A Brush? book and comedy breasts and internationally-renowned belching and goofballing.
Or as with Rooney, who was an authentic street footballer until they marketed him as a street footballer to such an excessive degree that he lost all authenticity.
More important than those fears, although by no means separate, are concerns over the way in which Dele develops as a bloke.
It cannot be easy for any 21-year-old, especially one from an unsettled background, to deal with the temptations brought by intense fame and extreme wealth while maintaining a keen sense of reality and a proper focus on football. At 31, Rooney is still struggling with the same.
Much like Rooney and Gascoigne in their youth, Dele is popular with team-mates, who consider him a lovable rogue but recognise the capacity for the roguishness to eclipse the lovability.
There is a belief that Dele is in a good place in a Spurs dressing room which may be youthful but which possesses characters who look out for him.
But when you are on £50,000 per week and you could earn five times as much elsewhere, the temptation to force a move becomes almost inevitable.
Dele is currently trying to get out of a contract with his agent, a move which suggests a desire to earn more as a player and a ‘celebrity’.
And whether his next dressing room will be as supportive as Tottenham’s is by no means certain.
We can only hope Dele will be influenced by the right people, that he will enjoy the riches his footballing ability gives him but recognises that the football must be foremost.
As for those who wish to lead him off the straight and narrow, well, there’s an obvious gesture Dele can aim at them, without Fifa getting involved.
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