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Dele Alli might be better than anyone envisaged

Tuesday 21st March 2017
Dele Alli scored his 14th league goal of the season against Southampton on Sunday. The Spurs midfielder may well be better than anyone could have envisaged.

February 2nd, 2015. It was the day in which an 18-year-old's life changed forever. And exactly for the reasons that you'd expect.
Dele Alli was enjoying what many would describe as his breakthrough year. Born in Milton Keynes, having developed through the youth system at MK Dons, the controversial club of the city. He quickly established himself as a bonafide star in the lower reaches of English football. At just 18, he was trusted with playing in a central midfield three, the primary creator and instigator, tasked with supporting Will Grigg, the man who was on fire at the time, though before any of the fame had come his way.

In the six months prior to that fateful day, Alli had scored 12 goals in 24 league games from an advanced midfield role. It was a mightily impressive feat against opposition who suffocated your time and space and were, with the greatest of the respect, quite happy to adopt the mantra: 'If he's better than you, kick him'.

The success that the fresh-faced youngster enjoyed attracted a vast array of interest from many of the country's top clubs. Manchester United was close to signing him, as were Chelsea and Arsenal. However, it was Tottenham Hotspur who were the beneficiaries of scouring the lower leagues. Alli was initially loaned back to MK Dons for the remainder of the season. He would progress to score 16 league goals, a tally bettered by only Grigg at the club - and would be welcomed into the Spurs squad in earnest in the summer.

When he initially signed for the North London club, Alli stated: "It's a massive club and I'm really happy to be here. I'd love to play for Spurs and at White Hart Lane. It won't be easy and I'll have to fight for my place in the team but I'll work hard to do that."

That was the expectation of many of the fans and the media of the time: a talented kid who now had his shot at the big time. It was seen as a low-risk, high-reward move on the part of Spurs, one that was commended without ever being heralded. Since then, though, Alli has simply continued to outperform the restrictions that had been placed on his talent.

Mauricio Pochettino was hesitant to trust him early on. Understandably so. He was just 19 years of age. However, late game cameos, performances in training and impressing in the Europa League, the attacking midfielder was able to forge a role for himself. Pochettino even shifted the seemingly entrenched Christian Eriksen out wide to fit the talented youngster into the team. Alli proceeded to score 10 goals in 28 Premier League starts, adding nine assists to round off a tremendous first season in the top tier of English football.

Very much like when Harry Kane, his esteemed teammate, broke into the limelight with a meteoric first season in the Premier League, there were doubts over whether Alli could replicate the same success with any sort of consistency.

So far this season, in 25 league starts, he has scored 14 goals and assisted three. Of the top five European leagues, only Timo Werner, RB Leipzig's talented young striker, can match Alli's goal tally for under 21s. The next best is Kylian Mbappe of Monaco with 12 goals. The difference, though, is that Werner and Mbappe often play as the spearhead of their respective sides. Dele Alli's primary task is not to make the net ripple. It is merely a product of his blossoming experience, his anticipation, attacking nous and calm finishing when in front of goal.

Alli was seen as a risk when first signed over two years ago. However, in that time, he has very quickly established himself as a Premier League star. He could well be better than anyone could ever have envisaged.
Andrew Dowdeswell

A sport obsessed 20 something who just really wants Arsenal to finally win the league. Please Wenger, what the hell happened to you?!


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