Few players have enjoyed a rise as meteoric as Dele Alli’s. Plucked from the obscurity of League One football with MK Dons in 2015, for the meagre sum of £5 million, the 21-year-old has earned rave reviews for his performances at Tottenham Hotspur.
It didn’t take him long to break into the England set-up either, where he has become one of the first names on the team-sheet.
Despite not playing as a striker, Alli netted 18 Premier League goals last season and formed a deadly partnership with hot-shot Harry Kane, which was a major reason for Spurs’ runners-up finish.
Fast-forward to the present day however, and the narrative is somewhat different. Alli has struggled to reproduce his best form and, like Tottenham in general, failed to live up the high expectations placed upon him last summer.
Spurs are seventh position in the table – one point behind Burnley – and despite their praiseworthy efforts to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League, their hopes of domestic honours are already over. Many factors are at play, such as the relocation to Wembley while the new White Hart Lane is built.
So key was Alli last season that his drop in form has undoubtedly contributed to Spurs’ current malaise. He has only three top-flight goals to his name this term, which is considerably fewer than at this stage 12 months ago.
But it’s not just in front of goal where his influence has diminished. Alli has been dogged by accusations of diving and, more worryingly, ill-discipline. Although he has never been sent-off in the Premier League, the midfield schemer is notorious for being hot-headed.
He retrospectively received a three-match ban for violent conduct against West Bromwich Albion at the tail end of the 2015/16 campaign. It ruled him out of the denouement of the season and Tottenham’s faint title hopes vanished in his absence.
His fiery streak was evident again in last weekend’s 4-1 defeat by table-topping Manchester City. Alli lunged in late on Kevin de Bruyne and was lucky to escape unpunished. De Bruyne, meanwhile, was fortunate not to sustain a serious ankle injury. To compound matters for Alli, the Belgian scored City’s crucial second goal just minutes later.
Perhaps in endeavouring to turn around his poor form, Alli is striving too hard and becoming frustrated. This is manifesting itself in his on-pitch demeanour and resulting in reckless challenges.
Although he is a highly competitive individual who performs best when he is playing on the edge, there is a balance to be struck. It’s one that hasn’t been found this season. Alli, and his manager Mauricio Pochettino, will both be acutely aware of that.
Nonetheless, there is no denying Alli remains one of the brightest prospects in English football. It is easy to forget he is still several months shy of his 22nd birthday, with fewer than 100 Premier League appearances to his name.
Young players are by nature inconsistent, but his professionalism off the pitch will stand him in good stead to overcome the inevitable setbacks.
Throughout his career at Tottenham, Alli has shown he is a footballer of the highest quality, one around whom Pochettino and England manager Gareth Southgate can build their teams.
Yes, he is suffering from a dip which is symbolic of Tottenham’s travails. But as the saying goes, form is temporary, class is permanent. Both Alli and Tottenham will come through this tough spell if they keep the courage of their convictions.