Tottenham Hotspur’s Dele Alli entered the Premier League in 2014-15 at the age of 18 as an unknown but has now in 2016-17 solidified himself as one of the league’s greatest midfielders at just 20 years of age. The English Premier League is, if not one of the most competitive leagues in the world of football. Every great player from around the world wishes to have a chance to play in this prestigious football league. As too did Dele Alli. Born in Milton Keynes, England, as a young boy Dele played for local side, City Colts FC. It was when Alli turned 11 when he was offer a spot to join the youth system at Milton Keynes Dons. As a young boy playing for Milton Keynes youth side, Alli had a way with the ball that most kids his age didn’t. Rising through the ranks at Milton Keynes Dons, Alli had this specialness about him that got coaches and fans out of their seats during the matches. According to Milton Keynes youth coach Mike Dove, “Alli had this sort of cheekiness to him, he always managed to squeeze his way out of tight situations with the ball; whether it was with a drag back, little flick to get by the defender, or a no look pass.” He tried things at such a young age (around 14-15 years old) that fear would prevent you from doing. At 16 years of age, Dele Alli broke through to the first team for MK Dons. According to MK Dons coach, “during an English League 1 match, the MK Dons coach noticed that Dele Alli looked as if he was bored. Then coach then pulled Alli over and gave him a few challenges during the match just so he could be entertained while playing. At this point, the coach at MK Dons at the time said to the manager that Alli has outgrown the small club of MK Dons and needs to move on, we did all we could for him.” At his time with MK Dons first team, Alli scored 24 goals in 88 appearances at midfield. Two of these goals were against English giants Manchester United in a 4-0 win in the FA cup which really gave him notoriety.
At the age of 18 Dele Alli signed to Tottenham Hotspurs for 5 million pounds. When first signed by Spurs, many fans weren’t keen on the signing of this young player because he was yet to prove himself in a big league like the Premier League. Although this was a big price tag for such a young English player, Pochettino knew with his direct approach in possession along with their quick counter attacking style of play, Alli would have a positive impact on the field.
Since breaking into the first team at Spurs, Dele has been used in a couple different roles in the midfield. This role is right behind the main striker, whether that is wide on the left or in a center attacking midfield position. When playing underneath the main striker, Alli’s touch and vision on the ball make him an excellent passer of the ball especially when finding the two wide players towards the edge of the box. When he’s not looking to play the wide players, he’s looking to play Harry Kane, either directly to his feet or in behind the defense by splitting the two central defenders. This was evident during the game against West Bromwich Albion F.C. when Alli played a stunning ball splitting the two central defenders, leading to a Harry Kane goal.
Not only is he a great passer of the ball, he is a great finisher of the ball as well. Alli is never afraid to shoot which makes him a threat from almost anywhere on the field. He shown on numerous occasions that he has both power and accuracy in his arsenal of tools. This was especially shown in the game against Watford, when Alli curled a shot pass the goalkeeper from about 23 yards out. One main component that separates Alli from other midfielders in the league is his instinct around the 18-yard box. When lurking around the goal, his instinct is almost animal like. He is always the first one to react to the ball whether it’s a deflection off the goalkeeper, surrounding player, or reacting to a ball crossed in the box. This striker instinct is the main reason why he is always a threat in the attacking third of the field. Another great quality Dele Alli has is his ability to win the ball in the air. For a player of his height, he can get up and win head-balls almost like a defender. This makes him a big threat on corner kicks as well as other set plays.
Another prominent part of Alli’s game is his defensive work rate. He has the ability to stop the flow of the opposing team’s attack and quickly counter forward after winning the ball. This is a big element of Pochettino style of play which is why Alli is so important in this system. What allows him to be able to do this is his constant energy on the pitch. Alli is always willing to work for his teammates whether its tracking back defensively to mark a defender, or making a springing run forward in the attacking end. Dele Alli’s box to box midfield ability makes him dynamic player and a constant threat for any opposing team.
What really seperates Alli from the other players in the English Premier League, is his skill on the ball as well as his ability to take risks during matches. Even when playing for MK Dons, Alli never shied away from trying something no other player would. As a young boy with MK Dons, Alli always got the coaches and fans off their seats during matches with his skill on the ball. As he did then, he continues now with the Tottenham Hotspur. Alli showcased his skill on the ball during his game against Crystal Palace. During that match, Alli settled the ball with his thigh, flicked it over the defender’s head, shot the ball on a volley, and scored. Alli took a huge risk flicking the ball over the defender’s head instead of looking for an open teammate. Not only was it a big risk, it took a lot of skill and composer to flick the ball over the defender’s head like he did. Being able to hit the ball off the volley like he did took perfect technique that not every midfielder has.
During his first season with the club (2015-16), Alli appeared in 46 total matches at midfield for Tottenham scoring a total of 10 goals, won PFA Young Player of the Year Award, and was part of Premier League PFA Team of the Year. At such a young age and in his first season in the Premier League these accomplishments are incredible. So far during his second and current season at the club, Alli has made 42 total club appearances and netted in a total of 19 goals with games still yet to play. He recently scored his 16th league goal in Tottenham’s 4-0 win against Watford. With that goal, Alli has contributed to 40 top-flight goals in 63 appearances since his Spurs debut last season. This equals the total contribution of Frank Lampard (15), Steven Gerrard (13) and David Beckham (12) at the same early stage of their careers. That stat really represents how good Dele Alli is because all three of these players listed are arguably the best ever midfielders to ever play in the Premier League. Being able to provide such a big impact at such a young age, really shows how special he is as a player. That’s not all, his 26 goals since his debut season are the most of any player under the age of 23 in all of Europe. Not only is he a threat defensively, he is a threat attacking as well. The way Dele Alli can create space for himself and score goals like the way he does is amazing. Being able to score like he’s doing at midfield is good for the team because it takes some of the pressure off the striker to score. This help keep the striker’s confidence up because he knows if he can’t score in a game, Dele Alli can score to get the win. The ability to not only have the most goals by any player under the age of 23 in all of Europe, but to also have more goals than any other midfielder in the Premier League at his age, is truly astonishing. When all factors are taken into consideration, Dele Alli is the Premier League’s most valuable midfielder and he is only 20 years old.