The Premier League is beautiful in the way that it never ceases to amaze. In one of the most astonishing seasons in recent memory, praises have been dished out to the Mahrez’s and the Vardy’s, with the Ozil’s and the Payet’s getting a lot of acclaim too. However, there has been one starlet — one English starlet, who has appeared on the big scene this season — and has taken the world by storm with the things he does on the football pitch; Dele Alli.
Bamidele Jermaine Alli was a name unheard of and unknown by the majority of the footballing community last season, which figures as the young lad was playing for (Manchester United fans look away) MK Dons in the third tier of the England. Tottenham proceeded to buy Alli in February 2015 for an initial fee of £5m.
The 19-year-old began his Tottenham career on 8th August 2015 against Manchester United. Two weeks later, Alli scored his first goal for his new club in a 1-1 draw against Leicester. Since then, the young lad’s rise has been meteoric — fans are watching him with their jaws wide open, while the other clubs wonder how they missed out on such a talent.
After his astonishing game winner against Crystal Palace which was a stunning volley from outside the box, the English youngster is on a path that only goes up for him. Or does it?
You cannot blame the majority of the footballing community (or should I say, the non-English community) if Dele Alli is treated with a little bit of scepticism and, at best, some well cautioned praise. After all, how many young English players who were touted as the next big thing have failed to live up to that ridiculous tag?
Alli’s early days reminds one, naturally, of all the Shelveys’ and the Wilsheres’ of the recent past, talents who started off at the top of the world, but could never quite perform at the biggest level consistently for various reasons, ultimately just fading in the background or still struggling to achieve the heights that were once expected of them. From Fabian Delph to Tom Cleverley, there has been no shortage of such players in recent years.
There is no question about the fact that THIS particular player is talented, and has an eye for goal. Having already netted as many league goals as Jack Wilshere, you cannot put what Alli has done down to sheer luck, or the deceiving tricks of a youngster who will ultimately be forgotten. Alli has the potential, and the world now knows it as much as he himself does.
Being a goal-scoring “English” midfielder who enchants his peers and fans alike at the top level, comparisons with the two icons of English football in the past couple of decades were bound to follow – “Is Alli the next Steven Gerrard or the next Frank Lampard?”
After all, this is England we’re talking about. A place where Shelvey was hailed as the successor to Gerrard, or where John Stones was being compared to John Terry after a solitary season as a starter at Everton. A place where Ross Barkley is still being compared to Gerrard by a section of the fans, and a national team where reputation counts more than form. These comparisons with the legends of the Premier League is a rite of passage that each promising English youngster has to go through, and Alli can be no exception to this rule. It is but mandatory.
Another thing that is synonymous with English football is how quickly players can become overrated. Any English player who has had a half decent season, or even a half decent month for that matter, is put up on a pedestal for the world to see and admire. Eventually after hitting a rough patch, the same journalists and set of fans tear down that pedestal, and the player is scrutinised like no other.
The thing about this constant praise and showers of appreciation at each above average touch of the ball is, that it gets to the head of the player. Imagine you’re a 19 year old who’s suddenly being compared to the players you grew up idolising. It gets to you. Each chance Alli creates, each tackle he makes, is likely to get blown up in the media.
In this scenario, keeping a down-to-earth attitude is as tough as it gets. It is also imperative, that the overrating and the comparisons overlap. When you call a kid who barely has any facial hair as the next Lampard, you’re basically hyping up his potential. The names Alli and Lampard must not be mentioned in the same breath so soon.
A recent example of this overlapping trend is Harry Kane. Having scored 31 goals in his first full season with the club that Alli currently plays for, the striker was hailed as the next Gary Lineker or Alan Shearer, and the expectations of the fans were on him like moths to flame. Although Kane has managed to perform well this season so far, he initially failed to find the net in the first few games of the season, which inadvertently led to the fans labelling him as a one season wonder, or the media bashing him at each chance they got.
He has done well to find form, or the blood hungry English footballing community would’ve had his career for breakfast by now. Here, the weight of expectations is absolutely ridiculous — expecting a player to perform at the level he did in his breakout/best season is an idiotic thing to do. If you raise the bar that high, one might never be able to reach it.
When you factor in these two negative aspects about being an English talent — the comparisons and the overhyping — only then do you realise how level-headed and composed a youngster must be in this country to succeed. Although Alli himself might be delighted at the fact that he is being compared to his childhood idol Gerrard, the underlying fact remains that these comparisons are bad for the career and mentality of a teenager. How can you expect a teenager to keep a calm head in the game and not think of himself as God, if you’re flattering him day in, day out?
In all fairness, it is but natural to get excited over a prospect like one we haven’t seen since Wilshere. But comparisons with the likes of Gerrard and Lampard are just bizarre and outrageous. Expecting ANY young player to reach the heights that these two behemoths of English football did is stupidity.
Part of the reason Gerrard and Lampard became what they did is due to the fact that the impact of social media or the British papers at that time was non-existent compared to what the scenario is today. Sure, it was still there within the country, but the mammoth scale that it has reached today is simply amazing. Would Lampard be as good if he were constantly compared to Paul Gascoigne by the fans worldwide? Would Gerrard have the mentality that he did if everyone around the world expected him to be as good as Graeme Souness, and compared his style of play with the Liverpool legend week in, week out? Maybe yes, maybe no. But we are lucky that we didn’t find out. The weight of expectations is a big thing, and none of us are Atlas the Titan, that we carry it without any huge effects.
The basic fact of the matter is, that no one quite knows how the career of Alli might pan out just after 23 games in the league. Currently, the midfielder is a quick paced player who can score goals as well as contribute to the defence when needed. In the next few seasons, he might develop into a box-to-box midfielder, essentially aiding both the defence and the attack. He might become a full-fledged #10, with an eye always on the goal. Who knows, Alli might even develop his playmaking skills more and the manager decides to play him in the role Paul Scholes played in. The possibilities are endless for this 19-year-old, but the road to success in England is treacherous.
It’s simple, really. More English talents have gone to waste than they have gone to glory. We all hope that Alli falls in the latter category, and be remembered as the kid who made it, rather than the kid who faded.
But if he is to do that, he must not be restricted to filling the impossibly big shoes of the likes of Gerrard or Lampard or Scholes — rather, he must be let free, free of the hype and the absurd comparisons, and as clichéd as it may sound, the youngster from Tottenham Hotspur must be simply known for the rest of time as the first Dele Alli.