SHAUN Williams knew the first time he laid eyes on Dele Alli he was going to be a star – likening him to Steven Gerrard when the current England midfielder first broke through at MK Dons.
Williams was playing when Alli, then aged 16, made his senior competitive debut, his first touch a back-heel in a 0-0 draw with Cambridge City in the first round of the FA Cup in November 2012.
Williams scored a double in the replay, but it was Alli’s stunning strike into the top corner from 30 yards in a 6-1 win that stole the show and marked him out as a real talent.
Liverpool were linked with a move for him, but he played two more full seasons with MK Dons. He joined Tottenham for £5million in January 2015 but moved back to Karl Robinson’s side on loan and helped them win promotion to the Championship.
Alli quickly earned a first-team spot in Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs side, striking a productive relationship with Harry Kane.
Former Millwall loanee Kane and Alli are set to start for Gareth Southgate’s England in their last 16 World Cup tie against Colombia in Russia tonight.
Williams revealed Alli was a dominant presence from the moment he first trained with the senior squad.
“He was being linked with Liverpool and I thought at the time he had the potential to be a replacement for Gerrard,” Williams said.
“He was late 15, early 16 when he started training with us and he was towering above everyone. He joined us towards the end of the season [2011-12], then came back and did pre-season with us.
“In the space of a few weeks he’d got even bigger, and he was running past everyone at 16, he was flying.
“For 16 he was so confident. He’s a good lad as well, fantastic. I speak to him every now and again.
“He went out of his way to ask for advice and would listen when you told him stuff.
“He hasn’t looked back since.”
Image: Millwall FC