2018 22under22 Countdown – #7: Dele Alli

“When you compare him, Dele Alli, a 21-year-old, with all the players in the world, I think he is the best in his age. In his form, assists, everything. For his age, Dele is the best – that’s it.” – Mauricio Pochettino

Date of Birth: April 11th, 1996 (22 years old)
Nationality: English
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Club Appearances: 234 (70 goals, 32 assists*) *Only his assists for Spurs, couldn’t find MK Dons assist data
International Appearances: 23 (2 goals)
EiF Ability Rating: 64.5

*EiF Ability Rating is a representation of a combination of the player’s current ability and potential ability. It is determined by multiple rounds of voting, and then an addition of the scores given by each judge. The maximum score a player can have is 80.

Who is the most hated player in the Premier League? At the top of many of those lists sits Dele Alli, famous for giving a referee the bird during an international match, being aggressive in matches, getting caught diving, and being genuinely brilliant at the same time. I don’t think I’ve seen a nation hate one of their best players as much as England fans hate Dele Alli in proportion to how good he is. He scores goals, he can pass the ball, and he is an absolutely necessary force if England are to be successful in Russia in 2018.

When Dele Alli first made his breakthrough in 2015, he burst onto the scene from almost nowhere. Following his move from MK Dons after a breakout season which saw him play the full 90 minutes in the historic 4-0 win against Manchester United, he made his impact on Tottenham almost immediately, scoring just three weeks into the season, and he has never looked back. Many thought he scored the goal of the season when he produced a spectacular flick and volley against Crystal Palace that January. His performances garnered him international attention, and he even earned a spot on the Euro 2016 England roster, which infamously crashed and burned against Iceland in the round of 16. The Dele Alli that played before this tournament is not the same Dele Alli that we have seen since.

In the 2016-17 season, Alli was out for blood. His performances led to him being in the PFA team of the year, while also picking up the young player of the year award, scoring 18 goals and gathering 5 assists from midfield. He gathered whispers about being the new Frank Lampard during this spell of his career, a compliment of the highest honor. Dele had toughened up after the Euro 2016 disaster, and he was showing it. He started to develop a reputation of being aggressive to players, and allegedly taking cheap shots every now and then. He was starting to be targeted by the British media as well, something fellow countryman Raheem Sterling knew of and continues to have to deal with. They became scapegoats for both club and country, and that will harden almost anyone.

He’s a competitor, and wants to do whatever it takes to win, but it’s not all brute force. When Alli runs forward into the box, it’s almost an art form. Like a Jackson Pollack stroke, Dele makes bending runs into the box always finding the right area to get his head, foot, or whatever he can on the ball. His intelligence is one of the most underrated parts of his gameplay as he always knows exactly where to be on the end of a whipped in Christian Eriksen pass. His technique on the volley looks is graceful, like a dancer on a stage. Behind the brute force, there is an aura of grace around him. That being said, there isn’t a player without weaknesses. Dele struggles with keeping the ball in possession as a midfielder. If you’re looking to him to be an attacking midfielder like Isco or Ozil, look elsewhere. Barcelona won’t be coming in for Dele anytime soon. He also isn’t a player that will help out too much on the defensive side of the ball, but these weaknesses don’t manifest themselves too often with how Tottenham set up. He fits in perfectly in the system he is in.

Dele certainly divides opinion, but he’s a player that both Tottenham and England need. He brings a fire that other players won’t bring, and his attitude can turn a game around for his team. His quality cannot be denied, and if England are to do well at the World Cup next month, he will certainly have to be at his best, both with his feet and with his mental games. He’s not the hero that England wants, but he’s the hero they need right now.

Written by Christian Candler