Dele Alli: the rise of a superstar

It is tempting for anyone to declare they’ve seen someone special. Something unique. Something that could be unlike anything they’ve seen before.

Dele Alli

Tottenham's Dele Alli Source: Tottenham Hotspur FC

So it was equally tempting to take a pinch of salt when a season ticket holder at Tottenham Hotspur, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, declared Dele Alli was good enough to start for Barcelona.

Now this fan is quite the football scholar, and hardly prone to hyperbole or optimism. He’ll be sitting in his customary seat for the match against West Brom tonight (11:00pm, live on SBS), probably thinking Spurs will get rolled. So I double checked whether he wanted to make such a statement.

“No, he’s as good as anything I’ve seen,” he said. “He could – absolutely – play for any team in the world right now.”

I didn’t disagree, but it felt premature. ‘Let’s see what he does over Christmas’, was my immediate thought. After all, that’s the time when the big players overcome fatigue and mad fixturing to stamp their impact on the Premiership.

Alli’s performance over this period wasn’t just good. It wasn’t just impressive. It was probably the best stretch of festive performances we’ve seen from an individual for some time.

Truly, he was electrifying: that he scored seven goals in four games – remarkable in its own right - only seemed to tell half the story. When those two goals flew in against Chelsea, sealing a magnificent win, I suddenly felt foolish for being such a cynic.

Indeed, at just 20, it would seem Alli is too young to be taken seriously in the football elite. Such a street-like footballer, it would appear he still needs to round off the rough edges to his game.

At Euro 2016, this appeared to be so. But barely six months later, such is the refinement in his decision-making, positioning and execution that it’s hard to deny that he has arrived in full bloom.

The complete package? That doesn’t exist. But Alli is ticking off as many boxes as he can at an astonishing pace.

“Twenty-years-old – [he’s already an] amazing player. He is an all round talent and has everything,” said ex-Spurs boss Harry Redknapp. “There is nothing he can't do.”

And yes, even to the point that Barcelona wouldn’t mind signing him – according to Spurs’ legend Ossie Ardilles.

“Success breeds success, and a lot of our players are starting to demand interest from different clubs,” Ardiles told Sky Sports.

“Real Madrid and Barcelona are going to be interested and I would say Dele Alli is the prime suspect right now. Everyone wants him, and if I was the manager of Real Madrid and Barcelona, I would want him. He is a wonderful player and very young.”

Indeed, whatever Alli’s value was two months ago, in this hyper-inflated economy, it has probably doubled. Spurs wouldn’t let him go for under £80 million; the kind of fee that would ease any troubles about the new stadium being built.

And as we’ve seen with Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Carrick, Spurs aren’t afraid to cash in on their best assets. Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy, ever one to sell high, might be tempted in the summer.

Then again, if Spurs aspire to be a team that can regularly compete for the Premier League trophy over the next decade, it’s precisely players like Alli they can’t afford to let go. He might pay for himself with trophies.

Perhaps it speaks to the ridiculous valuations currently floating around in English football, but the £5 million outlay they made for him less than two years ago looks like the best value purchase made in the EPL for several years. MK Dons will be kicking themselves they let him go so cheap.

Credit has to go to Mauricio Pochettino for spotting and moulding such a marvellous talent – more evidence that Spurs’ brilliant young manager is the perfect man at the helm.

Whether or not Tottenham can reign in Chelsea and Liverpool this season remains to be seen, but if nothing else, the confirmation they have the most exciting talent in English football since Wayne Rooney is reason enough to get truly excited.

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4 min read
Published 14 January 2017 at 12:24pm
By Sebastian Hassett