Dele Alli leaves Tottenham in search of his old self

After being allowed to leave Tottenham on an initial free transfer, the midfielder has a fresh start under Frank Lampard but has also never felt so far from reaching his full potential

Vithushan Ehantharajah
Tuesday 01 February 2022 14:53
Comments
<p>Dele Alli has left Tottenham after seven years</p>

Dele Alli has left Tottenham after seven years

You might not realise it, but everyone has a Dele Alli moment that sticks in their mind.

It might be the brace at Stamford Bridge. That tee-up and volley over his head at Selhurst Park. The touch and flick over Petr Cech when Tottenham Hotspur beat Arsenal in the League Cup quarter-finals. Perhaps that wonder strike against France on his England debut. Remember that contorted hand monocle celebration? Maybe even that. You’re trying it right now, aren’t you?

All of those are at least four years ago, around the time he was a key figure in England’s run to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup. He scored in the quarters against Sweden too, which might also be one item on the Dele platter that stuck with you. Barring one crafty flick off his toe in Amsterdam, there has not been much since.

It is this Alli Everton hope they might crack out of the amber. But his presence at Goodison Park in a dysfunctional set-up currently 16th in the league, at the age of 25, is down to the fact Tottenham have finally given up hope that Alli still exists.

Everything about the move speaks to the decline of a two-time Young Player of the Year. Ratified at the dregs of deadline day, with a cursory hijacking attempt from Newcastle United when even they realised the numbers involved were even chump change for everyone else. This time last year he was subject to serious interest from Paris Saint-Germain and a reunion with Mauricio Pochettino who once dubbed him the “best 21-year-old footballer in the world”. For now, Everton get him for nothing though will pay £10million after 20 games, which might have taken the duration of his new two-and-a-half-year deal to achieve had he remained in north London.

Since the start of the 2020/21 season, Alli has made just 15 league starts, five of them coming through the goodwill of interim head coach Ryan Mason. Jose Mourinho, Nuno Espirito Santo and, now, Antonio Conte have tried to revive a career that was never supposed to stall when he turned heads at MK Dons. All cut their losses, with Conte’s now the deepest cut of all.

Within all this feels like a loss of football identity. What exactly is Alli right now? He’s not quite a central midfielder, nor a number eight. His previous forays as a support act to Harry Kane are seemingly gone given he has just a goal and assist in the league over the last 18 months, not to mention it is a role you see less of nowadays.

It’s absurd to even write, but it is hard to shake the notion English football had progressed beyond him. The tall strider, energetic and antagonistic, strong-willed and quick-witted, has devolved into one shorn of confidence and second-guessing himself every time he steps on the pitch.

Naturally, the answers for his downturn have been sought away from football, with talk of the excesses of nightlife. That, though, seems merely a tenuous link based on age, status and profession. By all accounts, he has been close to the model student on the training ground in terms of effort and reliability. Which actually makes this all the more exasperating.

Then again, exasperating for who? Alli, certainly. Spurs supporters? Well, after nearly seven years, he is not theirs to worry about anymore. With regards to England and Gareth Southgate, the emergence of Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips, Jude Bellingham, Jack Grealish and Phil Foden makes him obsolete. The last of 37 caps came in June 2019.

Alli has joined Everton in an initial free transfer

As for Everton? They know they are getting a screengrab of an NFT of Alli. And while the more optimistic might hope for a re-emergence, the rest will probably be satisfied if he can operate as a functional midfielder, occasionally offering a body in the final third. After all, the minimal outlay is higher on the list of “pros” than the player.

Of course, it would be remiss not to include the usual caveats of a change of scenery, a new guiding voice in Frank Lampard and the chance to close a tough chapter. And whatever sadness there may be from Spurs fans who appreciate separation is the best for both parties, there is hope from them and others of better times ahead.

A clip of a meeting between Alli and Mourinho from the All Or Nothing series has been doing the rounds on social media this past week. Mourinho almost dotes on Alli, like a loving parent concerned about his son during a tough period of adolescence. He leaves him with this nugget: “Time flies. And I think one day I think you will regret if you don’t reach what you can reach.”

That day is not now, nor does it need to be any time soon. There should be more Dele Alli moments to add to a list that has plenty of space. This is by no means the end. It’s just that at this juncture, it feels like we have never been further from the beginning of a career that promised so much more than this.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in