Tottenham Hotspur could prove to be the ideal environment for English teenager Dele Alli to develop as he looks to have a breakthrough season in the Premier League
Dele Alli cannot have had many better weeks in his professional life. Fresh off the back of scoring his first Premier League goal – also his first for new club Tottenham Hotspur, the former MK Dons midfielder has now received his first call-up to the England U21 national team managed by Gareth Southgate.
Although Alli has represented his country at the U17 and U19 level, an U21 call-up has been long overdue, and it could pave the way for a future with the England national team. One of 14 players called up by Southgate for the first time, the Spurs midfielder is arguably the brightest talent of the lot.
This season, however, represents the first major step-up of his nascent career – both for club and country – and although it is a daunting challenge ahead, it is not the first time the 19-year-old will be playing outside his comfort zone.
England’s lower divisions are known for their physical style of play, and Alli has been cutting his teeth in League One – the country’s third division – since the tender age of 16. Although a deal with Tottenham Hotspur was agreed in the January transfer window earlier this year, the teenager was loaned back to MK Dons, whom he helped win promotion to the Championship – his last game a 5-1 thrashing of Yeovil Town on the final day of the season.
The youngster is now plying his trade in the big time, scoring his first goal in the Premier League this weekend in a 1-1 draw against Leicester City at the King Power Stadium. It is but the inevitable progression of what promises to be a special career for the midfielder, who has found the right club and manager to aid his professional development.
Alli can develop into a top-quality goalscoring midfielder
Dele Alli would probably best be described as an attacking box-to-box midfielder. At 6ft 2in, the midfielder is an athletic presence at the centre of the park, capable of covering the length of the pitch in order to contribute at both ends. Although his athleticism is a large part of his game, it is his goalscoring ability from midfield that stands out.
Last season, the 19-year-old racked up an incredible 16 goals in the league – a record not just outstanding for a teenager, but even more so for a player who is primarily a central midfielder. A quick glance at the highlight-reel of some of those goals will indicate that they are part of quite an eclectic collection – goals from outside the box, tap-ins, goals scored when arriving late in the box and headers. Quite simply, Alli has the innate ability to not only be in the right place, but to also time his runs well – evidenced by his first Premier League goal last weekend.
Although the clich is often used for strikers, it would be safe to say that the Spurs midfielder has an ‘eye for goal’. The 19-year-old is not just a natural goalscorer, but also has the vision and ability to play defence-splitting passes from deep in midfield. Several of his assists from last season indicate that fact, as also that he has the intelligence to time those passes to perfection.
His height and relatively slight frame contribute to the air of elegance he exudes when on the ball – the sort of effortless arrogance of a Yaya Tour when at his best. Alli’s ability to accelerate past opposition players or indeed outmanoeuvre them with his technical ability only adds to that feeling. Spurs fans were understandably waxing lyrical about their teenage starlet for this very reason following their friendly against Real Madrid in the Audi Cup in pre-season; Alli looked supremely comfortable playing against world class opposition for the first time, nutmegging both Luka Modri and Toni Kroos during the course of the game.
Deli Alli’s nutmeg on Luka Modri (Slow Mo) https://t.co/5lZgIYKngn
a _ (@PhotosTHFC) August 5, 2015
The Englishman’s performance against the Spanish giants highlighted another of his key strengths – his composure when in possession. Although it is perhaps too early to make a decisive judgement, his calmness on the ball does indicate the potential Alli has to control the tempo of games from midfield. A box-to-box midfielder probably is not responsible for this as much as a deep-lying playmaker, but the teenager’s mental strength and ability to make the right decisions under pressure only bodes well for the future.
Tottenham Hotspur the right club for his development
For several reasons, Tottenham Hotspur is the right club for his development. Mauricio Pochettino is the manager of one of the youngest squads in the league, with central midfielders Nabil Bentaleb and Ryan Mason, as well as superstar striker Harry Kane all coming from the North London club’s academy.
Pochettino has trusted his young players in the past, and there is every indication he will do so in the future. Alli, at 19, seems just the right fit into the squad. Although he hasn’t been thrown straight into the first team, the teenager seems to be getting progressively more minutes in league games – a major positive.
Another important factor is that Alli will be competing for a spot with the likes of Bentaleb, Mason and Moussa Demb l amongst others. Although the three are good players, the former MK Dons midfielder can realistically challenge them for a spot in the first-team over the course of the season if he continues to impress Pochettino with his performances.
An opportunity to play for a top-half Premier League team regularly from such a young age is absolutely ideal for Alli’s progression, and will do absolutely nothing to harm his England chances over the coming years.
Finally, the style of football Tottenham Hotspur play will challenge Alli as a midfielder, and if he is able to take it in his stride, will help him be a better player. Pochettino is known for his high-intensity pressing game, and is a manager who prefers to play with the ball on the ground.
In a defensive sense – the area where Alli might need the most improvement – this strategy can understandably be draining, particularly in the fast-paced Premier League, and particularly against the top teams who have the personnel to be able to move the ball quickly and keep possession.
Alli’s tactical understanding and positioning should improve as a result and make him a better midfield player. The England U19 international does not have to look too far for inspiration either – compatriot Ryan Mason rose through the club’s ranks and won his first international cap for England earlier this year.
The 2015-2016 season could not have started on a better note for Dele Alli, and he will be hoping that it continues in the same vein as he fights to cement a spot in Pochettino’s starting line-up. An U21 midfield partnership pairing with Chelsea FC starlet Ruben Loftus-Cheek is on the cards too, with the two reportedly earmarked by the national team coaches to be potential England players in the future.
“The game’s been won by a wonder boy. The whole talking point is probably going to be about one of the most gifted 17-year-olds this country has ever seen.” These were the gushing words of MK Dons manager Karl Robinson in March 2014, after Alli scored his first hat-trick in senior football.
Robinson might have been stretching the truth there a little bit, but given his burgeoning talent, the sky is the limit for Dele Alli.