England international footballer Dele Alli was left red-faced after TV cameras caught him giving the single-digit salute on the pitch during a World Cup Russia 2018 qualifying match.
During the game versus Slovakia at Wembley on Monday, TV cameras captured midfielder Dele going down under a challenge from defender Martin Škrtel. When his appeals for a foul fall on deaf ears and play continues, Dele rises, before walking back up field and making the explicit middle finger gesture.
Initially it was thought Dele had made the action in the direction of referee Clément Turpin, owing to the French official having denied the Tottenham player a free kick just moments before.
Explaining his bizarre behaviour, Dele later tweeted, “Just to clarify, the gesture tonight was a joke between me and my good friend Kyle Walker! Apologies for any offence caused!”
Right back Walker is a former club teammate of Dele’s; the two played together at Tottenham before Walker completed a record £50 million ($65 million) switch to Manchester City this summer.
In response to Dele’s explanation, Walker sarcastically wished his former teammate good morning on Tuesday.
The tweet has since gained close to 100,000 reactions at the time of writing.
Three Lions manager Gareth Southgate took a light-hearted view of the incident, putting the misunderstanding down to the unusual methods used by the players to greet each other.
"I’ve not seen, but I’ve been made aware of it. Dele and Kyle were mucking about and Dele’s made a gesture towards Kyle,” Southgate said in the post-match press conference, BBC Sport reported.
“So I don’t know what’s been visible on the picture and what the angle of the picture is but the pair of them, they’ve got a strange way of communicating, that’s what they’ve said when I’ve raised [the issue]. As I said I haven’t seen it.”
However, despite the explanation of the matter, FIFA announced it is gathering evidence on the matter, meaning Dele may face disciplinary action regardless.
"Please note that we are gathering evidence and cannot comment further at this stage," a FIFA spokesman told Press Association Sport when asked if they were looking into the incident.
England won the game 2-1 despite going 1-0 down courtesy of a Stanislav Lobotka goal after three minutes. Goals from Eric Dier and then man-of-the-match Marcus Rashford, who was at fault for the opener, eventually earned England the three points on home soil.
The win moves England five points clear of Slovakia at the top of Europe’s qualifying Group F and needing just one more point to qualify for next summer’s tournament.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia will be held in 12 stadiums across 11 host cities from June 14 to July 15.