The much-awaited EURO 2016 is finally here, and what’s a youngest-ever-England-squad-since-1958 without the EPL’s Young Player of the Year, Dele Alli? Nothing, according to former Liverpool and England defender Jamie Carragher, and apparently, England-boss Roy Hodgson.
The 20-year-old Tottenham forward and Liverpool fan has had nothing short of a splendid debut campaign in the recently-ended 2015/16 season, and fully deserves his call-up to the England 23-man squad for the UEFA Euro 2016 in France.
Out of nowhere, a little-known forward in the number 20 AIA shirt was weaving through defenses, executing crazy passes and scoring wonder goals. Dominating headlines and having the football world relive the brilliance of his icon Steven Gerrard when he burst onto the scene back in the early 2000’s.
Dele Alli is now a regular in the starting XI of Tottenham Hotspur (with nobody seeming worthier of the spot he now owns), and presumably another England legend in the making.
But who exactly is Dele Alli?
Born in April 11, 1996 in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire to a British mother Denise and Nigerian father Kenny, Bamidele Jermaine “Dele” Alli is a professional footballer who plays for London club Tottenham Hotspur and the England national team as a midfielder.
He is a graduate of the fairly productive Milton Keynes Dons youth system, which he had joined as an 11-year-old back in 2007 before being promoted into the senior team five years later. He played for the club for two and a half seasons, making a total of 88 appearances and scoring 24 goals, before agreeing a deal with an interested Tottenham Hotspur for £5 million. In a bid to have the young talent gain a little more first team experience before moving him to the White Hart Lane, Tottenham Hotspur decided to loan him back to MK Dons for the remainder of the 2014/15 season.
And, yes, the plan worked; he came fully prepared for the Premier League, its media, its severity and its defenders, and won the 2015/16 PFA Young player of the Year-award hands down at the expense of 2014/15 winner Harry Kane, Everton duo Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley, Stoke City stopper Jack Butland and Liverpool ace Philippe Coutinho.
For England, Dele Alli has played in the Under-17, Under-18 and Under-19 teams in a number of occasions and was in 2015 granted his senior debut. He is now part of the final 23-man squad that will represent the England squad at the Euro 2016.
Dele Alli before Tottenham Hotspur: Milton Key Dons
Dele Alli made his senior debut for MK Dons, as a 64th minute substitute for Jay O’Shea, in an FA Cup first round match against Cambridge City at Milton Road, which ended in a stalemate. He was 16-years old back then and this was little over five years after he joined the club’s youth system. In the replay, at the Stadium MK, less than a fortnight later, Dele Alli got his first goal for the senior side to cap off a terrific 6-1 win that booked MK Dons a place in the 3rd Round.
Even with such an impressive start, he had to wait until December 29 to make a league appearance. It was a debut to forget for the youngster, as the match ended 2-3 in favor of Coventry City. He played for little over 70 minutes before being replaced by Zeli Ismael. In the following Football League One match against Stevenage at Broadhall Way, which ended in a 2-0 win, he came in as a substitute for Patrick Bamford in the dying minutes and could hardly make an impact.
Dele Alli made patchy appearances for the remainder of the season and, being the youngest player in the team. He wasn’t really that decisive for his team as the Dons finished 8th with 70 points, 14 behind champions Doncaster Rovers.
The 2013/14 season marked Dele Alli’s breakthrough into the first team as a regular starter and a key member of the forward line. He started in the first league game against Shrewsbury which ended in a goalless draw before scoring his first league goal in the 4-1 battering of Stevenage.
Unfortunately, for the better part of the 2013 season, injury took a heavy toll on the 17-year old, who would have to wait until 2014 to make a return into the team and establish himself as a first choice number 10. He was on the score sheet in the team’s second match of the year against Shrewsbury Town at the Stadium MK. The match ended 3-2 in favour of MK Dons.
Exactly two months later in the match against Notts County, Dele Alli netted a hattrick to hand his team a 3-1 win and take his goal tally for the season to six. He made it seven a few days later with a 25-yard screamer against Coventry City, and this not only made for his last goal but also the team’s last match of the 2013/14 season.
Before the beginning of the 2014/15 season, Gleeson left MK Dons for Birmingham City, and this gave the now 18-year-old midfielder the chance to move into central midfield to partner with Darren Potter. The Dons season started brightly with a winning spree in both the league and League Cup.
On August 26, in the famous 4-0 win over Manchester United, Dele Alli played the full 90 minutes. He could unfortunately not put his name on the score sheet but he did put on a very solid display and was generally decisive from midfield. It’s alleged that there were a number of scouts from elite clubs including Bayern Munich and his favourite team Liverpool who were in the stands to watch him.
In the league game immediately after the Manchester United whitewash, Dele Alli drove a curled effort into the top corner from outside the 18-yard box and got involved in a second goal to help his team thump Crawley Town by two goals to nil.
He carried on with his fine form thereafter, adding a few more goals and assists to his tally, and in September got awarded with a contract that would tie him to the club until the summer of 2017. He wouldn’t live to see it out, unfortunately.
Dele Alli at Tottenham Hotspur
Dele Alli officially joined Tottenham Hotspur in April 2015 following the end of his half-season loan stay at MK Dons. He made his debut as a second half substitute for Eric Dier in the 1-0 loss against Manchester United at Old Trafford, and two weeks later came on for Christian Eriksen to score his first goal in their 1-1 draw against champions-to-be Leicester City at the King Power stadium.
He made his full debut in the match against Sunderland which ended 1-0 in favor of the Spurs. His second goal came in the 3-1 win over Aston Villa, 6 days before the 1-1 draw against Arsenal in which he was named Man of the Match. On December 5, Tottenham Hotspur settled for a similar scoreline away at West Bromwich Albion, but this time with Dele Alli on the score sheet.
On January 12, with his goal tally standing at five and assist at three after 18 Premier League games, he was rewarded with a long-term contract to keep him at the club until 2021. Less than two weeks later he scored arguably his best goal ever with a volley that caught Crystal Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey on the hop and utterly too late to do something about it.
On April 13, Dele Alli made it into the PFA Young Player of the Year shortlist.
He scored his ninth and tenth premier league goals of the season against Stoke City On 18 April, ten days before being named the PFA Young Player of the Year. Unfortunately, his season came to an abrupt end after he was handed a three-match ban by the FA for punching West Bromwich Albion’s Claudio Yacob in the stomach.
Dele Alli for England squad
Dele Alli received his first call-up to play for the England Under-19 side on August 2014, and started against Germany Under-19. The game ended in a 1-1 draw with him providing the assist for the England goal.
Amid rumors that he might ditch England to play for the Nigeria national team, he accepted Roy Hodgson’s call-up to feature against Lithuania and Estonia and all but forfeit his right to choose between England and Nigeria.
His first goal for the senior side came in a friendly against France at the Wembley STadium where he beat Tottenham Hotspur teammate Hugo Lloris with a low long range shot.
Dele Alli’s Future
Having just signed a long-term contract with Tottenham Hotspur, Dele Alli is poised to ply his trade in the Premier League for the foreseeable future.
It is widely known that he is a great fan of Liverpool and a long-term admirer of their legend Steven Gerrard. But even if one day the London club decide to cash in on the player, the likelihood that they will sell him to a league rival is minimal.
Before we conclude that we’re witnessing the rise of a star, though, it’s worthwhile that we learn from the past and preserve some allowance for an upset.
At 20, he has all the time in the world to improve his physique, skill and goal sharpness, and maybe model himself after his icon Gerrard but for now, we can only wait and see how well he performs at the big stage in France from June 11th as England try for the first time in their history to advance past the quarters in the European competition.