Two seasons ago, Dele Alli was struggling with lowly division club – MK Dons, but his talent was not lost on the scouts of Premier League top club, Tottenham Hotspurs, and the British-born Nigerian did not disappoint. With 10 goals and nine assists in his debut season, 16 goals so far in his second season, it came as no surprise that Alli was last week crowned the PFA Young Player of the Year for the second time running. Already, European super power, Real Madrid are said to be on his trail. Is Alli ripe enough to be a Galatico? Kunle Adewale reports
“I sincerely believe in years to come, he will be a top prospect.” These were the words of John Fashanu concerning Dele Alli, but the 21-year-old did not have to wait long before taking the Premier League by storm since signing from League One, MK Dons in 2015, scoring 17 goals and providing nine assists in 32 league appearances for Spurs in his first season and 20 goals in all competitions in his second season. Alli is only the fourth player to win the award consecutively, and joins Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney and Robbie Fowler in that exclusive club.
Little wonder England legend, David Beckham said: “We’re lucky as a nation to have young talented players coming through, and he is without doubt one of the shining lights of these young players. He plays the game with certain arrogance, and it’s good to have that arrogance, because a lot of top players have that. He’s a joy to watch.
“He’s a player that hopefully, if he works hard like he has been doing, and continues to play for the manager – Mauricio Pochettino, that he’s played for because I think he’s a special manager, and he’s looking after him in the right way. He’s a special player. I hope he continues to get better week after week, because as an England fan, we want to see these players perform the way he’s performing.”
Alli’s remarkable ascent had invited comparisons with some of the greats of the modern English game. With 30 goals in 90 appearances for Tottenham, he even has a superior record at his age than players like Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney. But he isn’t a similar player to any of those names. In fact, he really defies categorisation.
Beckham said: “He plays as a No. 10 but he doesn’t really get that many assists. He has five so far this season in the Premier League and it’s not really his game. He is all about popping up in the final third; he’s not a player who is going to be looking to drop deep, or play one-twos on the edge of the box.
“He’s almost a nine-and-a-half, between a No. 10 and a traditional centre-forward. He isn’t like other players who take up positions between the lines: he isn’t a goal creator or an intricate player like Mesut Ozil or David Silva. He wants to gallop onto the ball and score.
“He has arrogance about him and he is genuinely unique. You can’t compare him with anyone in the modern game. We haven’t seen this before. What allows Alli to play in this new way is the structure Tottenham have built around him. Pochettino is also key to everything, of course. He has trusted in a young player plucked from the third tier and has thrown him into the first team, refusing to farm him out on loan. It has given him the exposure he needed to shine.”
Alli signed for Tottenham in January 2015 and was loaned back to MK Dons for the second half of the previous campaign, but he immediately caught the eye in pre-season when he outplayed Luka Modric in a pre-season friendly against Real Madrid.
The youngster was not expected to immediately break into Spurs first-team but he has been a regular since his first start in Tottenham’s fourth Premier League game of the season – an away win at Sunderland.
It took Alli just two games to score his first Premier League goal, coming in Spurs’ 1-1 draw away to Leicester City in August. He then became one of the youngest men to be called-up to the England squad.
Against France at Wembley, Alli scored his first senior international goal on his first start – a sweet right-foot strike into the far corner from outside the box.
With Real Madrid said to be interested, what would be the future of Alli at Tottenham? “You can always trust Real Madrid to go for any player that has a big future. Alli has a lot of potentials to be a big star in future. If he could achieve all these with just a season in the Premier League, that means he has a big future. But I think he should not be in a hurry to move to a big club like Madrid so as not to be consumed, considering the number of big boys in the fold of the Santiago Bernabeu side.
“In spite of what Alli has achieved in his two seasons at Spurs, there are still a number of areas he still needs to improve upon. He is a raw talent and young. My candid opinion is that he should just play for two or more seasons for Tottenham and be properly molded before considering a big move,” former Nigerian international, Waidi Akani told THISDAY.
Some football analysts have also argued that Alli’s joining Madrid is not logical as the team is overbooked in the number 10 position and are finding it difficult to fit James Rodriguez, Isco and Marco Asensio into the team as it is. That’s not to mention the fact when everyone is fit, a no.10 position simply doesn’t exist in Madrid’s 4-3-3 system. Would they sell James and/or Isco and replace them with a mega money player who’d equally demand regular first team football?
Last year, Alli was offered a new contract that would keep him at the North London club until 2021 due to his splendid performance.
“When I signed, I knew wanted to play for Spurs. I’ve played a few games and showed people what I can do. I’m 19, have a lot to learn and can’t think of a better place to do that,” he told the club website.
It however remain to be seen if Alli would remain at White Hart Lane or would want to tow the line of notable Tottenham player earlier before him, Luca Modric and Gareth Bale, who could not resist the move to Santiago Bernabeu when the Galaticos came knocking.
Born on April 11, 1996, to a Nigeria father, in Milton Keynes, Bamidele Jermaine Alli joined the youth system at Milton Keyness Don at aged 11 and broke into the first team five years later. Over the next two-and-a-half years, he made 74 league appearances for MK Dons, scoring 22 goals.
On February 2, 2015, he signed for Tottenham Hotspur in the last hours of the mid-season transfer window on a five-and-a-half-year deal for an initial fee of £5 million, staying on loan at MK Dons for the remainder of the season.
He however made his Tottenham debut against on August 8, 2015 against Manchester United in the Premier League as a substitute in a 1–0 defeat away at Old Trafford, playing the last 13 minutesTwo weeks later, he scored his first goal for the club after coming on in the 1–1 draw against Leicester City.
Alli has made several appearances at U17 and U18 levels for England. On August 27, 2014, He was called up to the England U19 squad following an impressive start to the campaign. He made his debut for England U19 in the 1–1 draw against Germany U19. In the game and assisted the opening goal for England.
On October of last year, which ironically was Nigeria’s independence, he was included in Roy Hodgson’s squad for the final UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying matches against Estonia and Lithuania. His debut against the former on October 9, he came in as a late substitute in a 2–0 win. OnNovember 17, Alli made his first start for the England senior team, scoring a terrific opening goal from a long range shot to beat Spurs team-mate, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris in a 2–0 win against France at Wembly Stadium.
Alli was a Liverpool fan growing up, and Steven Gerrard was his childhood hero.