Tottenham Hotspur's tricky away trip to London rivals West Ham in the Premier League this weekend is set to be dominated by one man - Jose Mourinho. After Mauricio Pochettino's unceremonious sacking, the former Manchester United and Chelsea manager has been handed the keys to North London club's helm.
In previous seasons, it has not proven to be the happiest of hunting grounds for them and given their form in recent away games, they’d be desperate to pick up maximum points from the Olympic Stadium.
While a number of players are close to running down their contracts at the North London club, one who has a deal in place until the summer of 2024 is England international Dele Alli. The 23-year-old has struggled for consistency this campaign and has received criticism from several pundits over the past few weeks.
Former Premier League winner and Manchester United legend Gary Neville slammed the Tottenham attacking midfielder stating he is “half the player he was.” Roy Keane was also critical of him after Spurs’ 2-1 loss in the Premier League to Liverpool.
“Very, very poor,” Keane told Sky Sports. “I looked at him when he was coming through, you thought this kid has a chance. He is a great example to footballers out there that if you take your eye off the ball. You lose that hunger – when you lose that hunger, it's hard to get it back.
“He has had a few injuries, I give him that. But from what I hear off the field stuff, he basically thought he was a player. He thought he had achieved something. And today, he was non-existent.”
Alli’s form did pick up in the games against Everton and Watford that followed the Liverpool encounter, but there’s still a feeling that he’s not playing at the level that is expected of him. England boss Gareth Southgate also noticed this and omitted him from his Euro 2020 Qualifiers team.
Last season, the Tottenham attacking midfielder was criticised by Dutch legend Ruud Gullit after their Champions League loss against Ajax in the first leg. “A lot of players were disappointing because I see them every week in the Premier League. Dele Alli, oh my god, technical wise so bad.”
Comparison with legends led to decline
So what’s led to the sudden dip in form of a player who until three years ago was mentioned in the same breath as legends like Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard? According to Arosh Ali, the former MK Dons academy coach, it is precisely down to the British press constantly comparing youngsters to former greats.
Speaking exclusively to VAVEL, Ali, who worked with Dele when he joined the Dons academy, said: “I think the problem is the English game where the media puts too much pressure on young players. As soon as he hit 50 games, people started comparing him to legends of yesteryear, Gascoigne for example, and that pressure is put on his shoulders. Last couple of years, he hasn’t done as well as he should have but I think that’s the burden that’s been put on his shoulders. As a football society, I think they should allow players to develop.”
Given the ever-increasing involvement of the press and the impact social media can have on players, it’s obvious to ask professionals to block it all out and focus on their game. However, that is often easier said than done.
“In other leagues players don’t feel it as much as the Premier League – which is a global phenomenon. He’s not a player who I think would have stagnated overseas. The British media have this relentless pursuit of bringing up a player and then as soon as they do something wrong they want to drag him down. I see Dele peaking at 26 or 27 and he should be given the freedom like he was at MK Dons to flourish,” Ali continued.
Freedom is certainly something that Pochettino had handed Alli since his move to North London from MK Dons, and it remains to be seen how Mourinho deals with him. The Argentine had previously taken the player from strength to strength and was seen as the next big thing not too long ago.
However, injuries, diving accusations and turmoil behind the scenes at the club have stopped him from progressing into a world-class talent. That being said, Pochettino backed his player to bounce back from this dip in form.
“We all know Dele is going to be back. His mentality is good. It’s still there inside of him. Sometimes players being a bit naughty makes that difference. The devil is going to appear again. I don’t know when. But for sure it will,” said Pochettino in support of the 23-year-old during his time as Spurs boss.
'One thing he has is resilience'
Another man who is a hundred percent sure of Dele’s resurgence is Ali, who now is the assistant coach at London side Sporting Bengal United. Having worked with the Englishman since he was a 10-year-old, Ali knows him better than those pointing fingers at the Tottenham player.
Speaking about Alli’s early days, he continued: “He’s always been a skillful player. One thing he has is resilience. If there’s a knock somewhere or something doesn’t go right, he always bounces back. He is someone you cannot restrain, especially in the development years. Because we didn’t do that, he managed to flourish in all aspects.”
However, with Mourinho now overseeing Dele's development, Ali is unsure whether or not the Portuguese will be able to take the Englishman to the next level and help him fulfill his potential.
"It depends on what type of players Jose wants to bring in. He likes a big striker with quick players around him and I'm not sure Alli fits into the mould. We've seen at Man United, he couldn't get the best out of [Paul] Pogba or [Romelu] Lukaku. If this was Jose 10-15 years ago, he would definitely make Alli a better player, but now I'm not convinced he can."
Tottenham fans will be hoping that Alli has used the international break to train harder and come back in the best shape ahead of a tricky run of fixtures in the coming weeks.