It’s difficult to undersell what a revelation Dele Alli was at Tottenham this season.
While there were whispers prior to last season that Alli’s ceiling was exceptionally high, even the most optimistic of his boosters would have been surprised by what the 19-year-old accomplished this season at Tottenham.
Mauricio Pochettino evidently had faith in the youngster from very early on. Alli impressed in pre-season friendlies — notably nutmegging former Tottenham star Luka Modrić when the side took on Real Madrid — and earned his place on the bench to start the season proper.
His early cameos were more than solid. He scored his first goal with Tottenham off the bench in week three’s visit to Leicester City, and when the club experienced a minor injury crisis shortly thereafter Pochettino didn’t hesitate to give Alli his first proper starts.
It’s difficult to see now how much of a gamble that was. The full extent of Alli’s experience prior to joining Tottenham was playing in MK Don’s promotional campaign out of the third division of English football. While he did exceptionally well there, it was hardly enough on its own to justify gifting the young man Premier League minutes over older and more experienced players on the bench.
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One gets the impression that Pochettino will be remembered at Tottenham for taking chances like the one he took with Alli. His eye for talent is formidable, thanks in no small part to the backroom team he’s assembled around him, not least of which is Head of Recruitment Paul Mitchell.
Alli wouldn’t score against after that Leicester goal for over two months, thanks in some part to Pochettino’s testing the waters with him possibly being better suited for a central midfield role rather than part of the attack. Once Alli found his footing alongside Christian Eriksen and Érik Lamela however, his influence became palpable week in and week out.
Indeed, from his goal against Aston Villa in November until his season was prematurely cut short in late April, Alli would never go more than three starts from notching at least one goal or assist. The Premier League hype machine propelled him to the point of being a club icon, and it’s no shocker that he solidified his spot in the England squad quickly after being given his first cap.
Alli was a vital component of Tottenham’s improvement this season, and with Champions League football secured and another title race coming, it’s easy to imagine Alli doing even more for the club in the seasons to come.
It’s fair to say that that ceiling many predicted for Alli prior to this season has risen considerably. Ten goals and eleven assists at only 19-years-old and in your debut season has a way of doing that.
Still, Alli is not the complete product quite yet. His disciplinary issues this season — including the punch to Claudio Yacob that cut short his season — show how much he has left to learn. Pochettino’s task for next season and beyond will be to continuing channeling Alli’s prodigious talent while also finding a way to simmer him down to a more manageable level.
Final Grade: A-