Tottenham Future Watch: Dele Alli


View image |

Welcome to Tottenham Future Watch*! This is the inaugural post of a weekly column we’ll be putting up to cover all the latest updates, rumors and highlights of Tottenham’s various younger players, whether they be in the first team, on loan or still in development.

We start with Dele Alli, the ultra-hyped midfielder of Tottenham’s future. Bought in January from League One’s MK Dons, Alli represents the first major investment completed under the watchful eye of Head of Recruitment Paul Mitchell.

At only 19, it was a bit of surprise to see Alli in Spurs’ matchday squad for Saturday’s opener against Manchester United. When he came on in the 77th minute for his Tottenham debut, it was a minor shock. Some had been calling for him to actually start in midfield given his impressive display against Real Madrid in the Audi Cup earlier in the week, but that never seemed likely what with Nabil Bentaleb fit and Eric Dier featuring in defensive midfield so often in the preseason.

Nevertheless, there’s good reason to believe that Alli might actually feature pretty regularly in Pochettino’s side this season. The search is still on for a proper holding midfielder, but with Ryan Mason recovering from injury and with the reliability of Bentaleb called into question again after a wholly poor game Saturday, it could Alli’s time sooner than we think.

But why, exactly, should Alli deserve a start in midfield over other options, some of which have been patiently waiting for their first team chance for years? Tom Carroll, also on the bench Saturday, has been with the team since he was recruited by the youth academy in 2008. Several loan spells and many regular appearances for England’s U21 side later, Carroll still can’t find a look in over Alli. On top of that, he’s four years older and should arguably have a firmer grasp of Pochettino’s system than Alli, who spent he later half of last season on loan helping MK Dons earn promotion to the Championship.

By way of explanation, watch this highlight reel from Alli’s aforementioned game against Real Madrid.

Jul 29, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Dele Alli (20) plays the ball while defended by MLS All Stars defender Drew Moor (3) of the Colorado Rapids during the second half of the 2015 MLS All Star Game at Dick
Jul 29, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Dele Alli (20) plays the ball while defended by MLS All Stars defender Drew Moor (3) of the Colorado Rapids during the second half of the 2015 MLS All Star Game at Dick /

In case you missed it, he straight up nutmegs Spurs legend Luka Modrić at 2:15. More importantly, how many players can you name – much less 19 year old players – that can generate nearly 5 minutes of legitimate highlights from a single game?

With veering too far into hyperbole, the kid’s game has all the hallmarks of the type of player that should thrive in Pochettino’s system. He’s astoundingly well-rounded, dropping deep for the ball while cutting through the middle or out wide seemingly at will. His close control looks exceptional. And he’s only 19.

More from Hotspur HQ

Indeed, the closest analogue that comes to mind for Alli is Paul Pogba. Now that is emphatically not comparing the two players’ skill levels. Pogba is well on his way to being one of the best players in the world. Alli has had one good season in the third division of English football. They are galaxies apart. Pogba is merely brought up here by way of example. Alli fits that same mold of a versatile midfielder that you could easily envision becoming a fulcrum around which a team that specializes in transition play relies.

There was a time not too long ago when there were similar such rumblings surrounding Nabil Bentaleb. The Algerian might still live up to that hype, but he’ll have to keep looking over his shoulder with Alli waiting in the ranks. Perhaps that kind of competition is better for both players’ ongoing development.

For the time being, there are more questions about Dele Alli’s future role with Tottenham than there are definitive answers. He will have to earn minutes like anyone else in the squad, and there’s still the possibility that he goes out on loan before the deadline. On the basis of what we’ve seen so far from Alli, however limited, we should be excited to see more.

*Yes, of course I’m open to suggestions for better names for this column.

Next: Tottenham's Newest Weapon?