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Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino missed out on working with Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi goal celeb, Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao, La Liga
Image: Lionel Messi nearly joined Espanyol before signing for Barcelona, Mauricio Pochettino has revealed

Mauricio Pochettino is delighted to be working with a player as talented as Dele Alli after missing the chance to link up with Lionel Messi.

Tottenham strengthened their chances for a top four finish with a 3-1 victory over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Saturday, with Alli scoring a sensational volley to put Spurs in the lead with six minutes remaining before Nacer Chadli added a third in stoppage-time.

Alli joined Tottenham from Milton Keynes Dons last January, but was sent back on loan to the then-League One club for the remainder of the 2014/15 season, helping them secure promotion to the Championship. 

Dele Alli celebrates scoring Tottenham's second goal
Image: Reports suggest Dele Alli could have joined Liverpool before signing for Tottenham

The 19-year-old, who has been sensational for Tottenham during his debut season in the top-flight, was also a reported target for Premier League rivals Liverpool. 

But when asked about how close Alli came to joining Liverpool instead of Tottenham, Pochettino - who played for Espanyol between 2004 and 2006 and was then appointed manager in 2009 when Messi was approaching his peak at Barcelona - said: "Do you know how many players in football are close to signing for many clubs?

"Dele Alli, it's impossible to speak about that because maybe different clubs were close to signing Dele Alli. Dele Alli is now here.

Dele Alli  Mauricio Pochettino
Image: Pochettino secured the services of Alli from MK Dons for £5m

"We were close at Espanyol to signing Lionel Messi but this was true. A centimetre (away), unbelievable but this was true, maybe Dele wasn't true but this was.

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"Messi was 17 years old (in the 2004/05 season), playing under-18s and was very close to signing for Espanyol. It was close but it never happened.

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Alli produced a sublime piece of skill against Crystal Palace and Phil Thompson says it will be goal of the season

"In football it's always 'if, if, if' but it's about reality, it's not about maybe what could have happened."

Victory over Palace lifted Tottenham to within five points of league leaders Leicester, a win made all the sweeter after Pochettino was joined in the dug-out by his son Sebastiano.

"Not the first time, in Germany too in the Audi Cup he was on the bench but he is a sports scientist," Pochettino Snr said.

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Martin Samuel argues that there is not a better English attacking midfielder than Alli

"He loves Tottenham and all the players because he has a very good relationship with them but the players don't see him as my son, he's Sebastiano and this is the important thing. I know some say 'He's the gaffer's son' but the players trust him.

"Maybe one day he works for me or maybe for another manager, we'll see."

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