From Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – There’s always a conversation to be had about Dele Alli.
When you accomplish so much so young, there’s always going to be a spotlight on you. And if you aren’t matching the heights of your adolescence, it’ll always be spun as a ‘what went wrong?’ tale.
This has been Dele’s weirdest season at Spurs. His only Premier League start came on the opening day, and he was hooked at half-time despite a decent performance.
Ever since, he’s been on the periphery of the Tottenham squad with little explanation. The injury problems that have held him back a bit in the last couple of years haven’t returned – he’s just simply not been playing.
When Spurs were table-toppers in the first half of the season, it made sense not to disrupt a winning side, but they have clearly lacked invention since December.
Moving Tanguy Ndombele back into the centre of midfield has meant Spurs at least have a press-resistant playmaker to help move the ball up the pitch, but they’ve still lacked ideas when it comes to chance creation.
That’s been a consistent problem since Christian Eriksen first requested a transfer in the summer of 2019 – Giovani Lo Celso and Erik Lamela aren’t of the same mould or quality and are injured more often than not anyway.
But Dele at least offers the invention and ingenuity to help Tottenham in attack.
His beautifully taken overhead kick to put Spurs ahead in their 4-0 Europa League win over Wolfsberger on Wednesday night was the strongest proof of this. If he’s not attempting flicks (like the one to set up Tottenham’s greatest moment since 1984) or tricks (like the ones that rack up YouTube views for days), he’s trying to create something from nothing to help the team.
Spurs have played with a real mental block when things haven’t gone their way under José Mourinho. Sometimes they just need a little spark to kick into gear – a Harry Kane pass, a Son Heung-min screamer, either/or from Dele.
The 24-year-old has rarely played poorly when in the company of both Kane and Son. Maybe Mourinho’s desire to put his trust in inferior and less talented players is misguided, maybe he should just start his best footballers. Just a thought.
Tottenham have been wretched this winter, but the silver lining is everyone knows this is not a team performing to their maximum and that has not always fielded their strongest side. There’s obviously a route back to getting their season on track, and Dele’s reintegration is key.
A player of Dele’s obvious quality doesn’t just become squad fodder for the team ninth in the Premier League. Only last season he bagged eight goals and four assists in 25 Premier League games – he’s made just 16 appearances in all competitions so far this campaign.
Dele still has it and he doesn’t even need to adjust his game in order to be a great asset. He just needs a platform again.