Dele Alli was caught giving the middle finger during the 77th minute of England’s 2-1 victory over Slovakia, but his manager has defended the incident as innocuous.
The 21-year-old Spurs midfielder was caught on camera displaying the rude gesture after angling for a foul on the edge of the box by Martin Skrtel, which was not given by the referee. The timing of the gesture lends credence to the theory that it was aimed towards referee Clément Turpin, but according to England boss Gareth Southgate, Alli was not directing it towards the referee, instead joking around with Kyle Walker.
“I’ve not seen it but I’ve been made aware of it,” Southgate said in his postgame media obligations. “Kyle and Dele were mucking about, and Dele’s made a gesture towards Kyle. I don’t know what the angle of the pitch is. The pair of them have a strange way of communicating, but that’s what they’ve said when it’s been raised.”
When reviewing the replay, it does appear that Walker is closely in line behind the referee, but hard to tell exactly what was intended. Alli later responded as well, posting on social media to back up the claims.
No matter the intent, Alli in all likelihood will face a fine from FIFA, and could even be considered for a suspension if the governing body feels it’s warranted. Lionel Messi was suspended four matches and fined for directing “insulting words” towards an assistant referee, but that was overturned for lack of evidence after he sat out one game.