It’s a little hard to summarize this one, so I’ll start with just the facts and explain later: Late on during Monday’s England-Slovakia World Cup qualifier, Dele Alli raised his middle finger at ... someone, and now FIFA is looking into it to determine if the target of Alli’s bird was someone who could get Alli in trouble.
Here’s the moment in question:
As you can see, Alli was running through on goal trying to collect a pass, got bumped off the ball by a Slovakian defender, got up slowly, and after strolling back toward the action, directed his middle finger in the vague vicinity of where the ball and referee were.
At first blush, you might think Alli was mad at the ref for not giving a foul for the Slovakian defender’s bump and decided to communicate his frustration with a rude gesture. However, immediately following the match Alli and everyone else associated with the England team claimed Alli’s finger was in fact directed at his friend and teammate, Kyle Walker.
England manager Gareth Southgate said as much after the match, claiming the two former Tottenham teammates have a “strange way of communicating.” Alli and Walker too sought to clear things up on Twitter:
FIFA, understandably, aren’t too sure what to believe at this point. Thus soccer’s governing body has announced today that it has opened disciplinary proceedings against Alli in an effort to get to the bottom of this.
Who knows how any of this will go. Alli didn’t look all that aggrieved in the moment, so it’s not exactly obvious why he’d be so annoyed with the referee to do something weird like flip him the bird in the middle of the match. However, it’s similarly unclear why he’d be directing a middle finger at Walker right then, since Walker didn’t appear to be doing or saying anything to Alli at the time.
The English F.A. says it has additional video footage that should back up Alli’s version of events, and hopefully that’s true. The last thing anyone needs is for a cool and fun player like Alli to get a suspension that could quite easily keep him out of a couple World Cup matches just because he might have displayed his dismay at a referee’s decision with an idle hand gesture from far away rather than the widely accepted tactic of shouting his anger inches from the ref’s face.