There was a time when Dele Alli was considered to be one of the hottest prospects in English football. Drawing comparisons to Steven Gerrard and Paul Gascoigne
in terms of natural ability, the teenager who burst onto the scene at MK Dons settled in at Tottenham Hotspur instantly, becoming a key cog in Mauricio Pochettino’s well-oiled machine
Before the age of 21, Dele, as he prefers to go by for family reasons, was a regular in the England setup and had already racked up 50 goal contributions in north London, embarking on two unsuccessful title challenges in the process. Spurs were always on the cusp of something special, but always managed to fall short at the final hurdle under Pochettino.
Alli became an important part of Gareth Southgate’s England team in the 2018 World Cup and despite missing some games for Spurs, he continued to blossom alongside compatriot Harry Kane, who forged a partnership of his own with Heung-Min Son. But again, the season finished trophyless.
Whether it was the club’s mentality or simply crumbling under the weight of their own expectations, Spurs defied the football betting odds to reach the 2019 Champions League final, and after an injury-ridden season, Alli earnt a start for Spurs at the Metropolitano but failed to impress in the 1-0 defeat to Liverpool.
Inconsistency plagued what should have been Alli’s best years thus far, and after a tough spell under José Mourinho, the confident, silky, powerful midfielder was now a pale imitation jogging down the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium touchline from a substitute role.
The arrival of Antonio Conte only made things more difficult, with the Italian’s strict and frosty nature a juxtaposition to the warmth and guidance of Pochettino. It led to an inevitable departure from London, heading up north to play for Frank Lampard’s Everton.
Initially, it looked as though he would blossom in a free role on Merseyside, but the Toffees’ poor results meant a more structured system was required to narrowly beat the drop.
Flirting with relegation looks to be a thing of the past for Everton, and a new chapter can now be written at Goodison Park, with Alli a key feature. Now donning his iconic number 20 shirt again, a new confidence can be instilled in the now 26-year-old, and there’s no reason why he can’t forge his way back into Southgate’s World Cup plans with his best years still ahead of him.
If there was ever a player for Lampard to mould into his own image, it would be a goalscoring midfielder like Alli. Blessed with so much natural technique, the creativity, which he has in abundance, will compensate for the loss of Richarlison, and if Dominic Calvert-Lewin can also remain injury free, it could be an exciting year for those across Stanley Park. But that’s certainly a big gamble considering the duo’s track record on the treatment table.
Although there were rumours he could be heading for the Goodison exit door, a brace in preseason against Blackpool is an encouraging start for Alli, who Lampard himself said it might take time to get the best of last season.
“I know his qualities,” he said. “I saw them and that is why I brought him to the club. People will question why he has not had so much game time.
“The reality is when Dele came here, I never saw it as a short-term. It had to be a work in progress and that is not easy for a 25-year-old to take and understand.
“This is hopefully a real lift for him. He should take a lift from it because it affected us staying in the Premier League. Because that player we saw there is a really high-level player. That makes me really happy to see and he deserves it.”
Only time will tell what his future holds but the talented teenager we saw at Spurs is still in there somewhere — Alli just needs to find a way to unearth it once again.
Published by Samantha Brown