Where will football be in 10 years? It’s hard to guess. Who will be the best players in the world? Also hard to guess, but we”ll have a go. This new series, “Wonderwatch”, will be profiling some of the world’s most exciting up and coming talents who have the potential to achieve great things. One day, a series like this would have been talking about youngsters such as Lionel Messi, or Cristiano Ronaldo. But today, we are talking about Breel Embolo, Inaki Williams, Jordan Ibe, Youri Tielemans, the list goes on. The series will assess their short careers so far, their strengths and weaknesses, and whether they can go all the way.
We start with 19 year-old Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli, who is already showing signs of genuine quality. Going back a few years ago to November 2012, Alli made his debut in professional football, coming on as a 64th minute substitute for Jay O’Shea in the FA Cup first round 0-0 draw against Cambridge United. His first touch, a cheeky back-heel, gave us just a glimpse of the skill and confidence that was to come. 11 days later, he made his first start whilst he also scored his first goal in the replay with Cambridge as the Dons triumphed 6-1.
It was the next season though, in the 2013/14 campaign, where he became a regular starter, and after a few injury setbacks at the start of the season, he scored his first senior hat-trick as Mk Dons beat Nottingham County 3-1, and that was to be followed by a stunning 25 yard volley a month later in a 2-1 win over Coventry. That was to be his final goal of a season in which he struck seven times, and helped his side to a 10th place finish in League 1.
The next season saw him put in a string of top class performances as the first choice central midfielder in the side. He started the season well before he played an important role in Mk Dons’ historic 4-0 win over Manchester United in the League Cup, where it was reported that scouts from clubs such as Bayern Munich and Liverpool had come to watch him. He continued his form with a curler from the edge of the box against Crawley, and along with an assist, Alli scored his second ever hat-trick in a 6-1 win over Crewe Alexandra.
His performances in the first half of the season earned him a £5million move to Tottenham Hotspur in the January transfer window, but Alli was loaned back to Mk Dons for the remainder of the season, and they achieved promotion to the Championship as runners up behind Bristol City. Alli was awarded as the Football League’s “Young player of the year” after his impressive season.
His first season in the Premier League has seen him start life as a top flight player extremely well, and he scored his first goal for Tottenham as a substitute with a headed equaliser against Leicester City in a 1-1 draw.
His bright start to the season saw Roy Hodgson call him up to the senior England squad for the Euro 2016 qualifiers against Estonia and Lithuania, after he had represented England at U17 and U18 level previously. He made his debut in against the former as he came on as a late substitute for Ross Barkley, and after he scored in a 3-1 win over Aston Villa on 2nd November, he made his first start for England on 17th November as he scored a 25 yard stunner past his Tottenham team mate Hugo Lloris, via a slight deflection. But he went one better against Crystal Palace two months later as he scored one of the goals of the season. Facing sideways to the goal, he controlled a headed pass from Tom Carroll before demonstrating great awareness and skill to lob the ball over the head of an approaching defender behind him. Alli then swivelled before unleashing an unstoppable volley from, once again, around 25 yards out, that found the bottom corner of a helpless Wayne Hennessey’s net.
It’s goals like that that have prompted people to notice his sheer confidence and willingness to not only try outrageous pieces of skill, but to pull them off as well, and in some style. His ‘no fear’ approach seems just like what England needs, and he could prove a prize asset to Mauricio Pochettino’s improving Spurs side, that is, unless he is inevitably bought for a huge sum by a bigger club.
He is strong, reasonably quick, and, like his childhood hero Steven Gerrard, has an eye for goal from midfield.
People have suggested that there is a dark side to the youngster, but that is often the case with most young players, and at the moment, it just seems more like a fiery and somewhat important part to his game.
There is no doubt that the hype can get to young players, but Alli seems different, as if he doesn’t need this protection that is always talked about when England uncover a promising talent. He seems to be confident enough to not crush under the overwhelming pressure.
He is yet to face a big test so far in his career, and providing he stays fit, he has a great chance of being selected for the Euro’s this summer.
And will that be where Dele Alli proves what an extraordinary talent he is? We’ll have to wait and see…