Tottenham Hotspur dazzler Dele Alli must temper fire to forge greatness
Midfielder nominated for the Young Player of the Year award, but the young brave has a red mist which must be managed
Being nominated for the Young Player of the Year award by his peers was the perfect birthday present for English football’s brightest hope, Dele Alli, who turned 21 this week.
The Tottenham Hotspur dazzler was awarded the gong last season, so another in succession would justify the praise being heaped upon him.
The attacking midfielder unlocks defences with the same ease as a seasoned safe breaker and accelerates at speeds that would give a cheetah a run for its prey. And he wallops the ball home with all the abandon of a wrecking ball let off its chain.
Little wonder he is the focus of headline writers who shout about his ability and achievement.
His goal-scoring feat is an arresting statistic. His glorious 25-yard curler against Watford last weekend was his 16th in the league this season – more than any player below 21 in Europe’s top five leagues – and 19th in all competitions.
And that’s more goals before turning 21 as Frank Lampard (15), Steven Gerrard (13) and David Beckham (12) combined.
The £5 million (HK$48.6m) Spurs paid third-tier Milton Keynes Dons for Alli in February 2015 is looking like the buy of the century.
His ascent towards greatness sped up in January when he headed home the two goals that brought league leaders Chelsea’s 13-game winning run to an end.
Many declare he is scuffing the heels of the best player in the league, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, with every stride, so close is he to similar perfection.
English football and Chelsea great Lampard said Alli was a better player than he was at 20, and that he could go on to surpass his Premier League record of 177 goals from midfield.
Yes, Alli could go on to all sorts of things, as could have all those other players that were once the darling of the pundits, but who, for one reason or another, failed to live up to the great expectations.
Alli’s tendency to allow his excessive aggression to get the better of him needs to be urgently addressed if he is to elevate himself to the pantheon of legends.
His disciplinary record is an early warning to him and his custodians to act now or forever regret. Because the young brave has a red mist that must be contained, for it will cost him and his club dear if allowed to continue unchecked.
He was sent off for swinging a punch into the midriff of West Bromwich Albion’s Claudio Yacob last April, landing him a three-game suspension that ended his season.
He was widely condemned in February this year after being sent off in a Europa League game against Gent for a thuggish challenge that could have left Brecht Dejaegere with a broken leg.
The subsequent three-match ban means Alli will miss half of Spurs’ group stage fixtures in next season’s Champions League if they qualify automatically as expected.
Insubordination has dogged Alli since his formative years at MK Dons, where manager Karl Robinson would ask him to wink at the bench to show he had not lost control.
No one wants a poodle on their team and Alli’s aggressive streak must still be seen as a strength rather than a weakness, but so must it be balanced with discipline.
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Dedication – the extra runs after training to improve stamina, the extra shooting practice long after the rest of the team have showered and gone home – is also vital, as is coping with fame and learning to show humility and maintain a constant smile through the media inquisitions and the endless selfie and autograph requests.
Many are called but few are chosen, and Alli is certainly destined for the latter. He deserves his success to date and greatness plus a Ballon d’Or beckon – but only if he continues to learn through the examples of others, the could have beens as well as the greats.