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Ex-Tottenham star Dele Alli is proving The Special One right

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One of the most memorable scenes from the Amazon All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur documentary was the one-to-one between then-Spurs boss Jose Mourinho and then-Spurs star Dele Alli in which Mourinho challenged Dele to, in short, try a bit harder. 

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Just before the scene in Mourinho’s office, viewers are shown a clip of Dele at his best: scoring an astounding volley from distance against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park which deservedly won the 2015/16 Premier League goal of the season award.  

Receiving a headed pass at an awkward height around 25 yards from goal, Dele then flicked the ball over an onrushing Palace defender with his second touch before slamming it into the bottom corner with his third. 

That wonder strike was one of ten league goals scored by Dele that season – an impressive return for a rookie teenager in his first Premier League campaign, having recently stepped up from MK Dons in League 1.

The would have given you long odds on Dele outscoring Zlatan Ibrahimović, Eden Hazard and Jamie Vardy the following season, but he did just that with 18 goals (plus the nine assists) in 2016/17.

These performances earned him a second successive PFA Young Player of the Year award and a spot in a PFA Team of the Year for the third year running. 

They also cemented his place in the national team – Dele scored on his Three Lions debut in November 2015 and, by the time of his meeting with Jose four years later, had earned more than 30 caps. Not bad for a 22-year-old.    

But the story couldn’t be more different since then. In the 2017/18 season, Dele failed to hit double figures in the scoring charts.

In an injury-hit 2018/19 he started just over half of Spurs’ Premier League matches and netted only five times. 

That’s an underachievement for a player who, at the time, was rated the world’s most valuable midfielder by the CIES Football Observatory.  

Cue the pep talk in the gaffer’s office. 

Having seen Dele reach lofty heights, Mourinho was right to be concerned about the Milton Keynes native wasting his potential.

After all, getting Dele firing on all cylinders would have made the Portuguese tactician’s job much easier.

But the intervention doesn’t seem to have had the desired effect. While 2019/20 was not a disaster by any stretch, Dele certainly didn’t reach the levels he had shown he could. 

While Jose was keen to point out Dele’s inconsistency, it is also the case that Spurs had lost their spark in general, with Mourinho chalking up 10 league defeats in a single season for the first time in his managerial career before being sacked in April 2021.

The rigidly drilled, defensive setups favoured by Mourinho (and his successors in the Spurs hotseat, Nuno Espírito Santo and Antonio Conte) probably did Alli no favours given that he is a player who thrives in a free role but he, equally, has done himself few favours during his attempts to resurrect his career post Spurs. 

First stop: Goodison Park. Everton boss Frank Lampard (himself one of the all-time great goalscoring midfielders) brought Dele in on a heavy performance-incentivised deal in January 2022. It was a win-win in theory: Dele rediscovers his form and helps Everton avoid relegation.

It didn’t quite work out that way. Everton survived, but even the biggest Dele fan can’t claim his time as a Toffee was a success – he failed to register a single goal or assist in his 13 appearances for Lampard’s team.

Besiktas are the latest club to take a punt on the (former?) England international: Dele was one of six Premier League players to switch to 16-time Turkish champions this summer (alongside Nathan Redmond, Romain Saïss, Cenk Tosun, Wout Weghorst and Arthur Masuaku). 

However, just days after being appointed for a second stint in charge of the Istanbul club, new Besiktas boss Şenol Güneş publicly criticised Dele, stating that he is ‘below expectations in terms of efficiency. An all-too-familiar accusation.

It is now or never for the 26-year-old. From first name on the England team sheet a few years ago, he’s not anywhere close to being in contention for even the 55-man long list – let alone Gareth Southgate’s final squad – for the upcoming World Cup. 

‘You should demand more of yourself’, said Jose to Dele in that now infamous meeting at Hotspur Way Training Ground in front of the Amazon cameras. There’s still plenty of time for Dele to do that if he wants to. 

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