It was like a bolt out of the blue. The chance was nothing more than a half-chance and Crystal Palace knew exactly that, which is probably why they stood off the number 20 and let him take the first touch under pressure but something in Mile Jedinak’s mind realised what was about to happen.
That was it. Just like that the world was in love with Dele Alli, showboater supreme and yet in an instant, in one swivel of his body - the world was in love. And who can blame them? Because one quick look at that goal, even four long years later, and you can see the talent that emanates from the midfielder. Oodles, and oodles of talent and plus the potential to become even better than those who walked the same path before him.
The kind of talent that only a few sportspeople possess within themselves, the talent to not only be good but maybe even be great if not the greatest. And you know what? Dele Alli has that within in and it’s been on the show for nigh over four odd years now. It’s rare that a player who showcases themselves as being that good actually turn out to be that good and then came Alli. Manchester United spent themselves 90 million for Paul Pogba to get themselves a midfielder who could do it all while Tottenham dug deep within the English football pyramid and found themselves one.
There’s a joke somewhere there but that’s all besides the point. Either way, Spurs had their man and by 21, Dele Alli was a superstar in his own right and fans and neutrals alike will remember that night at the Bernabeu. A coming of age story like no other when Alli, a mere kid, produced arguably his single greatest performance and since then nothing. As statistics go, the Spurs man dropped off the face of the earth as the years wore on and as tactics changed.
While that performance at the Bernabeu did a lot for his legacy, that season saw Alli score only 14 goals in all competitions with them contributing to 17 assists. Beyond impressive that it was but it was also the last time the Englishman hit double figures for either goals or assists which shows signs of decline for the midfielder and he’s hurting now. Pochettino has gone and it seems with his departure the Argentine seems to have taken away Dele Alli’s ability to play as well.
“Sir Alex Ferguson gave me only one bit of advice in two and a half years: Buy Dele Alli. ‘That guy, with that mentality, the way he plays, the aggression he has in mind. This guy is the Manchester United player. Buy Dele Alli’."
Not to play football but his ability to play great football on a consistent level which was something that the former Spurs boss managed to get his golden boy to produce. He produced against Dortmund, against Manchester City, against Liverpool, against Manchester United and on the biggest stage that mattered, so much so that at one stage dropping Alli seemed ridiculous. Now nearly a year into the change in the Spurs hierarchy and things have changed for Tottenham's former golden boy.
He has played just four Premier League games with a grand total of 74 minutes. He has been more prominent in the Europa League with six appearances and 268 minutes with just three starts. That’s right, in their Europa League campaign which tells you just how far the 24-year-old has fallen and that’s not good for a 24-year-old player. That's not good for any footballer on the planet. This wasn’t how their, Mourinho and Alli's relationship started but it certainly looks like it will end this way and its one that needs to.
Tanguy Ndombele, over the last few months or so, looks like he has earnt his redemption with the Frenchman finally firing and yet it’s in the absence of Alli. He’s way out of the matchday picture and doesn’t even look like he might get somewhere close to it in the near future. And with PSG’s interest increasing and increasing, it’s time that the 24-year-old thinks about moving on. Not playing football, hell not even making the bench is not somewhere a midfielder in the prime of his career needs to be.
It’s why trying to figure out a move before the window closes has to be Alli’s priority because first and foremost, he needs a move away from North London. This is a man who doesn’t just need to play football but a man who needs to do it on a consistent basis and at the moment that isn’t something that he’ll get at Tottenham. He’s no longer a first-team fixture and with the addition of those two former Real Madrid men, things will get even more complicated.
It paves the way for Mourinho to play a tactical system that he’s been craving to play and that doesn’t need someone like Dele Alli to help them thrive. What they need they’ve already got, a potent striker in Harry Kane, two uber stars wingers in Gareth Bale and Son Heung-MIn, wing-backs in Sergio Reguilon and Matt Doherty and a trio of decent center-backs to help out. The midfielders are the obvious winners but Alli will never fit it that trio especially if Ndombele and Lo Celso continue playing.
But more importantly, putting aside the tactical issues for a second, Alli needs to leave because he’s teetering on the edge of a path that nobody wants to see him go down. A path that already is already overfilled with the wasted potentials of countless players over the years and a path that once he walks down, turning back is not an option. Slight redemption and pulling yourself back onto the social platform is but re-discovering that potential? Becoming as good as you could actually become?
That is a task too hard for even the greatest sportspeople on the planet and it’s exactly why he needs the move away especially now. No matter the club even if that does mean signing for PSG, then Alli needs to do it especially since he’s got time to turn the clock back. He may never hit the heights that his fans once dreamt he could but the 24-year-old has enough time left on his hands to turn back the clock far enough and become an inch close to great again.
There’s a part in the behind the scenes documentary that Amazon released where Jose Mourinho calls Alli into his office to have a chat. It’s an inside look into the way Mourinho acts with his players and not surprisingly, he’s frank and shockingly charming. The Spurs boss is honest, unflinchingly so even, and what he said about regret works wonders here. Because he’s right. Ask anyone about wasted potential and regret usually follows hand in hand with it.
But the advantage the young midfielder has is that he has the chance to turn the clock. It will be tough, anything worth doing is and yet if anyone can do it, it's the same man who at 19, stunned the world with a move that many have tried since but no-one has replicated. Not only that, at 24, his future is in his own hands and his talent, plus what he has done so far, will ensure that he will have enough suitors for his move away in order to refresh his footballing brain and get reinvigorated again. The question is, does he want to?
“I am 56 now. And yesterday, yesterday I was 20. You know what I mean? And today I’m 56, time flies and I think one day you’ll regret it if you don’t reach what you can reach”