Dele Alli turns 21 on Tuesday. It is a moment which, it is said, represents a coming of age. On a personal level and could well prove to be the case for the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder, but in an athletic sense, he already feels that he is a fully grown artist, a player with size capabilities. For sure there is more to come, but Alli is more than just succeed in the here and now.
It is obvious to anyone who has seen him this season as game after game, week after week, Alli has displayed a level of competence, dynamism and intelligence that belies her tender years. And these qualities were on display again at the weekend, Tottenham is No20 played a key role in his side’s 4-0 triumph against Watford, their 13th victory in their last 16 league games, and 11th in succession at White Hart Lane, which is equivalent to a top-flight record set in 1922.
Alli opened the scoring with a wonderful curling drive from distance and continued to torment Watford from a position of no. 10, Tottenham’s 4-2-3-1 formation. He was not the man of the match – this distinction was awarded to Kieran Trippier, but deserved to go to his Heung-min, who scored twice and played a role in all four of Spurs ‘ goals, with the other being brought to the house by Eric Dier – but it was once again electric. A joy to watch.
Dele Alli last pleasure sparks Tottenham Hotspur, the rout of Watford
Alli the strike has been remarkable-beyond the launch of the victory of Tottenham. He took his Premier League goals tally for the 2017 to 10 – its total amount in the previous season, as well in the sense that he had a hand in as many Premier League goals before turning 21 (40), Frank Lampard (15), Steven Gerrard (13) and David Beckham (12).
“Wow, this is incredible,” Mauricio Pochettino, said informed of this comparison. “First of all, he is a great kid, a lovely person. And then he is a great player. And then he is so young he can improve a lot, learn a lot of things, its potential is huge. But each day he improves, and every day he becomes more mature. He is improving his skills, but in his character.”
Maturity and character are words that feel important in any discussion about Alli given it is a player for whom the red-hot talents are matched, on occasion, by a red‑hot temper. In a little less than 20 months at Tottenham, he has received 16 yellow cards and one red, the last shown to the England international following his horrific tackle Gent’s Brecht Dejaegere in February and for which Uefa handed him a three-match ban from European competition.
This loss of control feeling like something Alli has to get to grips with to ensure that it plays in the type of games – as decision-makers, the Champions League final, World Cup final, even – that could mark him as a legend of the game, but to have defended him after the tackle on Dejaegere, Pochettino was again at the weekend, insisting Alli of aggression is something to admire rather than admonish.
“This character is perfect for a player,” the manager of Tottenham, said. “When you win and you feel lost on the ground, it is like losing your life – this is what we want in a player. He is young and he needs to improve, but he needs love. To improve is not to hit or punish him.
“And I’m so happy for him, because I’ve always known that the relationship of a day has been difficult. It was nice, beautiful, but also difficult because it is like when you have your son, you love him, but sometimes you need to be difficult.”
Now, the question is just how good Alli can be. Tottenham certainly the right environment for him to develop, the reader feels the same way, if his decision to sign a six year contract last year, is anything to go by. If his football father sticks around and then the sky could be the limit.
“He is special, a little different from all the players that play now at his age,” Pochettino said. “His energy, his character, his quality. I think he is a unique player. It is different from the other, it is therefore difficult to compare to the other.”
One of the best young players in Europe? “At his age and with his stats, I think that yes,” the Argentinian replied. “If it is not the best, it is one of the best, that’s for sure.”