Every week at The Center Circle, we are highlighting a different player in a feature we call “On the Spot”. We’ll take a look at superstars, underrated gems, aging veterans, and young unknowns who should be known. We’ll peruse their club and international careers, taking note of their teams, statistics, and highlight reels. We’ll illuminate their strengths and weaknesses and comment on their personalities and reputations. It will be some fun. If there is anyone you want to see “On the Spot”, feel free to comment below.
This year’s Premier League season has seen the emergence of several promising young players. Perhaps the most notable of that group is Tottenham’s Dele Alli. Still just 19, Alli has quickly become Spurs’ first choice in the midfield, and looks to have a very bright career ahead of him.
Made at MK Dons
Dele Alli’s footballing career began at his hometown club, Milton Keyes Dons. After joining the League One club’s academy system at the age of 11, the talented midfielder wouldn’t have to wait too much longer to make his professional debut. During the 2011/12 campaign, a 15-year-old Alli would be named to the team’s bench three times for the FA Cup, but he was never able to step on the pitch.
His second season as a member of the senior squad would start in a similar fashion. The teenager would watch six matches from the bench before finally making his debut as a substitute against Cambridge City in the FA Cup. Still just 16 years old, Alli was slowly exposed to the senior game as Karl Robinson featured him in just two league fixtures, and another five in the Cup. It was in the FA Cup that the future Spurs star would score his first professional goal in a replay against Cambridge City.
The following year, Robinson loosened the reigns on his promising youngster and made Alli a near constant figure in his starting 11. The 2013/14 season saw the 17-year-old make a career-high 37 appearances between all competitions. The increase in playing time also saw the midfielder’s offensive production skyrocket as he piled in six goals and added in another assist. The highlight of the season came away against Notts County, when Alli scored all three of the team’s goals in a 3-1 victory at Meadow Lane.
In his final year with the third division club, Alli started to attract major interest from some of the biggest clubs in Europe. The 18-year-old midfielder played a pivotal role in MK Dons’ historic 4-0 thrashing of Manchester United in the Capital One Cup. That year, Alli more than doubled his previous best in goals, finding the back of the net 16 times through 38 matches, and recording another career-high with nine assists.
Nowhere like North London
Alli’s impressive form during the first half of the 2014/15 season, paired with the growing interest in the teenager’s future inspired Tottenham Hotspur to pull the trigger on bringing him to the club. Spurs officially announced the deal on the final day of the winter transfer window and paid a reported initial fee of £5 million for his signature. Right now, that fee is looking like quite the bargain.
Spurs would loan Alli back to MK Dons for the remainder of the season, and he would end up helping his hometown club earn promotion to the English League Championship. However, bigger things were on the horizon for Alli than playing in the second division.
Alli’s first season in the Premier League has gone better than I think even Tottenham were hoping for. The MK Dons’ product has become a perennial choice for Mauricio Pochettino’s starting 11, and has quickly adapted to the Premier League style of play. The 19-year-old has appeared in 21 league matches for his new club, and started all but three of them. Through just over half the campaign, Alli currently sits as the team’s second highest goal-scorer with six, and is also second on the team in assists with four.
The Tottenham midfielder scored what may end up as the goal of the season against Crystal Palace on January 23rd. Alli pulled off an audacious flick over a Palace defender, before sending a brilliant volley into the bottom corner of the net. This little piece of magic shows the world why Spurs’ fans are so excited about this kid.
England has no problem when it comes to talented midfielders. Despite this depth in the heart of the pitch, Dele Alli has already made four senior appearances for the Three Lions despite his young age. During that limited amount of time, the Tottenham midfielder managed to score another wonder goal, this time against his teammate Hugo Lloris at Wembley. His bright season with Tottenham makes Alli a favorite to be a member of Roy Hodgson’s team come the Euros this summer.
Style of Play
Dele Alli is typically deployed in the center of the park for Tottenham. He possesses a good soccer IQ for his age, picking out difficult passes for his teammates, and knowing when to slow the play down. This maturity on the pitch allows for him to control the pace of the match, and turn defense into attack with the flip of a switch. Standing at just under 6′ 2″, Alli uses his size to hold on to the ball and when you’re going up against the likes of Yaya Toure and Marouane Fellaini in the middle of the pitch that strength is vital. In addition to his size and strength, Alli has a knack for trying the incredible. Despite his age, he’s not afraid to take on defenders (as seen in his Crystal Palace goal), and he’s yet to show signs of being overwhelmed by the spotlight. Expect big things from this player.