Compared to Diego Maradona, Steven Gerrard and Ronaldinho, wanted by an Arsenal hero, but Dele Alli’s Tottenham love affair could soon be over


Dele Alli could soon be on the move again, months after joining Everton in a move that was supposed to revitalise his career. Having left Tottenham, the 26-year-old linked up with Frank Lampard and it was all smiles in January but now he appears to be heading to Turkish side Besiktas. Lampard took a punt on bringing Alli to Everton, but it has not paid off so farGetty Getty Now he could attempt to rekindle his career abroad[/caption] Alli has been deemed surplus to requirements at Goodison Park, and the Istanbul-based side are understood to be proposing a loan deal with a view to a permanent transfer. It’s been a real fall from grace for him, having been a mainstay for Spurs and key player in their title tilts and Champions League final run under Mauricio Pochettino. On New Year’s Day 2017, Alli had north London rocking and it seemed like the sky was the limit for the England international, and early comparisons with Steven Gerrard might have even undersold his talent. His two headed goals either side of half-time against Chelsea gave Tottenham a stunning 2-0 win over the Premier League’s table-toppers. It seemed like it would never end, chorus after chorus of the chant which delighted Spurs fans. Hailing their midfielder and delighting in the fact he was signed at a bargain £5million and was now better than Arsenal star Mesut Ozil. It felt like the love affair between Tottenham and Alli would never cease as manager Pochettino lavished praise on him, too. 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Alli ended the season with 18 Premier League goals and seven assists in an astonishing campaign where his partnership with striker Harry Kane hit ludicrous levels. Two weeks later, against West Brom, he recorded one of the assists of the season as part of a flowing Spurs move also involving Eric Dier and Christian Eriksen. Alli linked with Kane and deftly flicked the ball over a static Baggies defence and allowing his teammate to fire home his hat-trick goal in a 4-0 win. It was glorious. Alli was at the top of his game in 2017Getty - Contributor Arguably it was around the peak of Spurs’ brilliance, they had their moments in recent seasons of course, but in the 2016/17 campaign they were relentless in their pursuit of Chelsea but just couldn’t quite make up for early slips in the campaign. They scored the most goals (86), conceded the least (26), lost the least (4), but draws – six in their first 11 matches – ended the dream before it started. The decline was slow to begin with for Alli, and the reasons manifold. First off, it’s worth exploring the tactical changes for Tottenham, Pochettino in that sensational run, drifted between a 4-2-3-1 and a 3-4-3, both allowing the youngster freedom from the left to combine with Kane and Eriksen. Gradually, as Heung-Min Son was introduced to the team, Alli began to move centrally, and as injuries hit the deep-lying midfielders Victor Wanyama, Mousa Dembele, and Dier, he also was forced into more defensive duties. Alli’s numbers declined but his performances were still okay in 2018/19 The 2018 World Cup came and went with Alli key in their march towards the semi-final, scoring against Sweden in the quarters, an effort reminiscent of his two headers against Chelsea a year-and-a-half earlier. But back at Tottenham, as Pochettino’s side failed to recapture the form of 2016/17, he tinkered in search of answers and Alli was the fall guy. The arrival of Lucas Moura and the progression of Son, plus more injuries, the loss and failure to replace Wanyama and Dembele, and more tactical tweaks, saw him play in a midfield three, but in a box-to-box role, and also in a midfield diamond, further limiting his goal contributions for some of the campaign, which looked bad to neutrals. Shunted around by Pochettino, who loves the player and his versatility dearly, Alli also started to pick up injuries. Hamstring issues began to hit Alli He missed 22 games in total as Spurs, somehow, made it to the Champions League final but Alli, his teammates, and Pochettino were in an inescapable tailspin which would result in Jose Mourinho taking over in November. In his new manager he had a fan given he revealed Sir Alex Ferguson suggested he sign him when manager of Man United. Mourinho tried to antagonise Alli into finding his form, and early signs were good, a display in Mourinho’s first game in charge, against West Ham, saw Alli steal the show. There was also a marvellous goal against Manchester United which showed him at his natural best. But soon he was, once again, in and out of the team and has barely seen the field in the Premier League since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Alli initially started out life well under Mourinho but has since faded into the backgroundGetty Images - Getty To associate his decline with the arrival of Mourinho is far too reductive, he started off superbly. “He’s playing really, really, really well. I couldn’t ask for any more from him. He’s playing amazing, scoring goals, assisting, working, fantastic,” said the Portuguese after watching him star against Bournemouth in late 2019. And he even realised what Pochettino was doing wrong as Alli lost form. He added: “Every manager has his own ideas and we’re all different. Nobody is right and nobody is wrong, but for me, Dele is not a midfield player. “For me Dele is not a player to play positionally in midfield. “He is a player to be like he is playing, close to Harry [Kane], following some dynamics that we train but a little bit of freedom to associate with attacking players. This I think is the best position for him.” Mourinho can only be blamed so much for Alli’s current predicamentAFP or licensors And Alli’s role being key is something Spurs legend Graham Roberts agrees with. “Alli is a No.10 to play behind Harry Kane, and, for me, I don’t think they are playing him in his best position,” he told talkSPORT 2. “If you go back two or three years he was scoring 15/20 goals a season, and that is the Dele Alli we want back. But unless you are playing him in his correct position then I think it’s hard for the lad. “So, for me, I would NOT sell him. I think he’s a great player who just needs to get back into the right position as a No.10.” Alli was replaced by Moussa Sissoko against Stoke City in a League Cup quarter-final in 2020 and wasn’t happyRex Features Even out of form he has his admirers at top clubs and Paris Saint-Germain, when managed by Pochettino, who really does delight in Dele. He’s compared his charisma and personality to that of legends Diego Maradona and Ronaldinho, while also appreciating the temperamental streak which helps create his unique on-field character. In a recent Sky Sports Monday Night Football segment, he said: “Dele was an amazing player for us; the hunger and the energy and the aggression. There is clear affection between Pochettino and AlliGetty Images - Getty “He was always on the edge of the line, so you needed to help him and tell him to be careful and take one step back.” Everton boss Lampard was hoping to help get his career back on track, but has started him only once, which was the final game of last season when Everton lost 5-1 at Arsenal. “The first thing Dele needs to do is find consistency in his training and that is something I have spoken about,” Lampard said before the current season began. “For me, full pelt in training is non-negotiable, and I think Dele needs, needed, to understand that is important for me and for him.” He has appeared as a substitute in both of Everton’s Premier League defeats this season. “I like Alli but when I watch him, he looks like he’s lost the hunger for football,” former Aston Villa striker Gabby Agbonlahor said, while Ally McCoist would like to see him rekindle his career at his beloved Rangers. It’s clear eeryone hopes Alli, whether it’s at Eveton, Besiktas or even Rangers, can recapture that confidence, because on his day – and in the right role – he’s a true game-changer.