MK Dons' Dele Alli has the makings of next Steven Gerrard
Dele Alli's first touch of the ball as a professional player was sublime, but it almost got him throttled.
Aged 16, stepping off the bench in an FA Cup match against Cambridge City two years ago which ended 0-0, the midfielder's debut contribution was a perfectly placed, cocksure back-heel to a team-mate.
"I was going to throttle him," said MK Dons boss Karl Robinson, 34.
"I can't say what I said but it was along the lines of 'the cheeky little something or another'.
"It was 0-0 against a team from non-league. In the replay he scored from 35 yards. And I knew the kid had something."
Alli, now 18, has played for England Under-19s, been scouted by Liverpool and Bayern Munich, sparkled in a 4-0 win over Manchester United in the Capital One Cup and has just signed a new three-year deal.
At a strapping 6ft 2in, he oozes quality, on the ball and off it, with controlled passes from the base of midfield and timely runs forward. And he can tackle - juicy, crowd-pleasing tackles at that.
|Dele Alli factfile|
|Born in Milton Keynes, 11 April 1996||Signed for MK Dons aged 11|
|Made first-team debut aged 16 as a sub||Scored his first goal in his first start - from 35 yards|
|Capped by England U17s, U18s and U19s||Played 53 times for MK, scoring 11 goals|
Add 11 goals in 53 first-team games, including a hat-trick last season, and the accolade of the Football League's Young Player of the Month for August - the midfielder has every reason to back himself, even when it comes to making a first impression with a fancy flick.
"I've always liked to be a bit creative," he told BBC Sport.
"After that back-heel I had a shot that got me bullied for a bit, it wasn't the best. In the replay I wanted to make amends and I scored that goal."
League One side MK have experience of keeping youngsters grounded, having had 14 come through their academy and go on to make their senior bow since Sam Baldock's breakthrough in 2005. The 25-year-old now plays at Brighton.
Defender Brendon Galloway's move to Everton in August proved how highly the youth products from MK are regarded.
In a more modern approach the older, more experienced players take on the role as mentor to the juniors, but Robinson also adheres to an old-school mentality - cleaning boots, running errands and learning the difference between a latte and a mocha.
"I believe there was a picture from the weekend of Dele making me a coffee," said Robinson, who once coached in the Liverpool youth system.
"He's still one of the youngest on the coach so still has to do that for the staff.
"It was horrendous. He didn't know the difference between a black coffee, a white coffee and a cappuccino.
"These things are important, because they have to understand that the senior players have all been through this.
"He's just a good kid and we're so proud of him and all the players here."
It could have been very different had an 11-year-old Alli, playing for local side City Colts, not decided to change his mind 12 months after walking away from a trial with the Dons.
"I had been training with them for two weeks and then we had a friendly at Stamford Bridge. Obviously I wanted to play at Chelsea but they said I wasn't able to go," he recalled.
"So I got in a bit of a strop and said 'I'm not coming back'. I was still quite young. I was really immature."
Fortunately, his Colts manager, Mark Walsh, was also the MK under-11s boss, and a year of persuasion coerced the boy back into the fold.
That enthusiasm to play though, and the brooding that follows if he is deprived of a game of football, has remained.
"I remember resting him once or twice and you should have seen the face on him. He looked like we had taken his toys out of the pram," said Robinson.
"You tell him it's for his future, but he'll say 'my future is Saturday'. All he wants to talk about is playing in the next game."
Growing up in Milton Keynes, where there was no professional team until 11 years ago, Alli's allegiance lay with Liverpool.
His athleticism, technical ability and eye for goal have attracted comparisons to his idol, and lifelong Red, Steven Gerrard. Alli said: "Gerrard was a big influence on why I supported Liverpool."
"If I'm a young player looking for a role model, someone who has the attributes of a world-class player, it's Steven Gerrard," said Robinson.
There is an expectancy that, sooner or later, Alli will be joining the likes of Gerrard in the Premier League.
Scouts from across Europe watched the talent's imperious performance in the League Cup upset over United last month.
United's international players Adnan Januzaj and Shinji Kagawa were made to look second-rate against the man from Milton Keynes.
|MK make mark for the future|
|Since becoming MK Dons 10 years ago, the club has produced 14 academy players who have gone on to play for the first team. The majority of those players were born within 10 miles of Stadium MK.|
Robinson has already rejected two offers for their prized asset and, inevitably, the top clubs are going to be persistent.
"It is about us getting what we deserve," concedes Robinson.
"We know his current market value. What we can sell him for could keep our academy going for a long time to come."
MK tied Alli down to a new three-year deal this week, not with the hope of keeping him until 2017, but to safeguard their investment and reward a player who has shown the youngsters below him what is possible.
It is thought an offer upward of the £4m mark is what is required to set the wheels in motion, but when asked about the lure of the big time he shows a maturity beyond his years.
"It's not a distraction. I like it. I'm not thinking about the future too much. I'm just thinking about the present," he said, with a textbook response fitting of a seasoned veteran.
"At this moment in time I'm here so I'm going to enjoy helping the club as much as I can."