Dele Alli was named in a recent study as the second most valuable player on the planet — behind Neymar, but ahead of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Yet that has not stopped England boss Gareth Southgate delivering the 21-year-old Tottenham midfielder a reality check, ahead of the World Cup qualifiers against Malta and Slovakia, by telling him, “You ain’t proved nothing yet.”
The CIES Football Observatory rated Alli at £136.9million — £3m more than Messi and £37.2m more than Ronaldo – over the summer.
So, when Southgate talked about finding the next generation of leaders in the Three Lions squad, following Wayne Rooney’s retirement, it was easy to imagine Alli was at the forefront of his mind.
However, Southgate said: “Dele is an exciting player and it’s a great opportunity for him to really kick on. But there’s always a challenge. He has to challenge the likes of Marcus Rashford and Jamie Vardy, Adam Lallana and people like that in our squad.
“Raheem Sterling can also play in the No.10 position. Dele is an exciting player, but he’s not a proven player — at the moment, he hasn’t won anything.
“Like all young players, he has to keep looking to improve and get better, that’s the challenge. His scoring record over the last couple of years is phenomenal for a player who is not an out-and-out striker.
“We’re enjoying working with him, but we’re going to keep pushing him because we think he can get better.”
Asked if Alli could learn a thing or two from the way Rooney emerged as a superstar, Southgate added: “Wayne was on a level different to any of the players we’ve got when he came through.
“I was playing with him and his attributes, strengths and goalscoring, range of passing and intelligence at 17 or 18, was better than any of the players in the current squad.
“We’re talking a different level. In my time with England, there was Paul Gascoigne, Paul Scholes and Rooney, who were just a little bit more than the others — and we’re talking high-level people like Steven Gerrard, David Beckham and Frank Lampard.
“That’s where Rooney was, and our guys have got that to prove.”
Alli and club-mate Harry Kane — who ranked third in the CIES survey at £135.5m — will take much of the focus now that Rooney has gone. But Jack Butland will also be in the spotlight if, as some expect, he replaces Joe Hart in goal.
Butland is back from more than a year out with an ankle injury. Southgate said: “Jack is a supremely focused and positive character. We have real competition in that area.”