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Mourinho is hoping to elevate rejuvenated Dele Alli to the top

West Ham United 2 Tottenham Hotspur 3

Back again: Jose Mourinho enjoyed a win on his return to management
Back again: Jose Mourinho enjoyed a win on his return to management
Dele Alli

By Miguel Delaney

After the party piece, and the performance, there was a little piece of performative Jose Mourinho. The new Tottenham Hotspur manager went around the London Stadium pitch to salute almost every player following his side's 3-2 win, but there was one he was specifically waiting for. By the time Dele Alli came over, and they were almost the only two people left on the pitch, Mourinho gave him that most ostentatious and outstretched of hugs. It's the kind of thing the Portuguese often does to so publicly make a point, but that doesn't mean there isn't real substance behind it.

It wasn't the only time in the last week that Mourinho has singled Dele out, in a positive way. There was initially the way the 23-year-old was one of the first Spurs players given one of those individual pep talks. There was then the way Mourinho actually brought this up in his first press conference, revealing how he implored the midfielder to be "the real Dele".

Finally, there was the perfect illustration of the real Dele - and his well-known old swagger - in the finest individual moment of the match, and how Mourinho spoke about it. Dele found himself lying on the grass in the 41st minute, but rose above everyone on the pitch with a brilliant improvised flick as the ball was rolling out of play, to initiate the move for Lucas Moura's second.

For Mourinho, who had the ideal view, it was "amazing".

"It was in front of me," he enthused. "The piece of skill was amazing, but more was the mental thing in relation with that. You only do that if you are focused, committed, ultra confident. If you have the bad feelings or sadness, you don't do that. That skill only comes when, emotionally, everything is so positive. So, fantastic."

This is all exactly what many say Alli wasn't over the past year. They say he didn't seem focused or committed, and certainly not ultra-confident. There was instead a lot of talk that he was spending too much time on computer games, that he'd lost his way, and that Mauricio Pochettino and his staff were starting to come down hard on him. Some even spoke of the danger of wasting his talent.

Parts of that are true, but the reality is a bit more complicated. Dele has been unfortunate with injuries but - in contrast to his team - had started to find a bit of form in the last few weeks.

He was on an upward curve, but it's still also true that Mourinho has sought to shape that curve, and the player.

He already seems to have picked out Dele as a particular project, someone to make a great, and a player to make the centre of this team. He was certainly at the centre of things on Saturday, as he played the key passes for most of the best attacking moves - not least Son Heung-Min's opener.

That idea from Mourinho might seem obvious, given Dele is only 23 and has so much talent, but it's always been about so much more than talent with the Portuguese. You could pick out any number of players with abundant natural talent he has almost immediately taken against. Paul Pogba stands out.

The difference with Dele, though, is just how much he seems to fit Mourinho's ideals for a midfielder. He may well become his perfect number-10.

Mourinho has articulated exactly what this is, in a revealing press conference at Chelsea way back in 2015, and Dele's abilities seem to fit much of this.

"I like a number-10 to score goals," Mourinho began. Tick. "I like a number-10 to get in the box." Tick. "A number-10 for me is an eight-and-a-half when the team loses the ball, and the number-10 is a nine-and-a-half when the team has the ball."

You mightn't quite say this is a tick yet, but it has the potential to be. That is because of Dele's very development, and how he has played right across midfield, starting at the base.

One of the problems in his career has actually been finding the right role. He has often seemed a player of obvious talent, yes, but no obvious position. He hasn't fully worked in the classic number-10 role for Pochettino or England. It's always as if there's been something missing.

Mourinho's definition of a 10, however, might be just right for him.

Dele might even be close to complete for it.

He could well be Mourinho's new Wesley Sneijder, new Deco, given these were the players he elevated as his greatest 10s.

He often spoke about them in the same way he spoke about Dele on Saturday. The hope is that the player himself fully embraces it.

It seems, however, the will is there.

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