Indulging in hyperbole about the latest homegrown talent in English football appears to be as much of an institutional trend on these shores as talking about the weather, or the love of a Sunday roast.
Considering the state of the English national side over the last few years (who’d have ever thought football fans in this country would be longing for the days of Sven-Goran Erikkson and his perennial quarter-final runs?), identifying the next Golden Boy on a fairly regular basis is about the only source of excitement available to fans in these isles.
As much as the Euro 2016 debacle went even further in warning us against getting too excited, the continued excellence of Tottenham Hotspur’s Dele Alli makes it increasingly hard not to. On today, just his 21st birthday, the midfielder is drawing comparisons to greats such as Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.
Despite starting his second season as a Premier League footballer rather slowly, Alli is constantly growing at White Hart Lane. Operating as a shadow striker recently, since Mauricio Pochettino switched a hybrid of a 3-4-2-1 and a 3-4-3 system, his unique ability in that role is fast becoming evident.
While he initially started as a central midfielder, his deployment further up the field has seen an improvement in his goal haul, with Alli now outscoring elite marksmen such as Neymar and Karim Benzema in league competition. In fact, only five players (Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Diego Costa) have scored more Premier League goals this season.
It’s hard to compare Alli to any of his contemporaries his age, such is his unique brand of football. A wonderfully skilful, 6’2 attacking midfielder with the engine to flourish in a physically demanding style under a manager such as the aforementioned Argentine.
Granted, he doesn’t yet have the varied passing range of Gerrard, though it’s important to remember his age. That may still be introduced into his game and the England international is already showing the kind of footballing intelligence required in that regard.
His work off the ball is constantly improving. Not only does he make the runs that open up spaces that seem to lay between heartbeats, but Alli is now instructing others to do so. When Kane wasn’t in the team, he worked well with Heung-min Son as the pair rotated in the central role of the attack, helping identify the sort of runs his South Korean partner should make.
In all honestly, we could sit here and wax poetic about Alli’s importance both off the ball and off the field for Spurs, England and whatever European powerhouse he may eventually join, though we should enjoy just what he can do on it for now.
So, on his birthday, here’s another a look at the goal just how talented he actually is. Alli may score better goals in his career, more important ones in fact, though his wonderful strike against Crystal Palace during a season in which he and his teammates proved so exciting will live long in the memory.
Happy birthday, Dele.