Now that the dust has well and truly settled on what was an explosive season that defied standard convention in many more ways than one, we felt that we would take this opportunity to evaluate how some of the campaign’s stand out performers performed over the course of the 38 matches.
The first in our serious of season reviews will focus upon the incandescent rise of Dele Alli, who burst onto the scenes of the Premier League season and took the imagination of many a fellow fan by storm. From the dizzying highs, to the crushing lows and through those creamy, creamy middles – we take a look at the progression of this marvellous young player over the 2015/16 campaign.
Knuckling down and proving his worth
Whilst this series may focus on the season of 2015/16, true to form we shall be starting it off a little before that, in the January of 2015 when a then 18 year old Dele Alli put pen to paper and committed himself to a move to White Hart Lane come the end of the season.
As exciting an opportunity as a £5 million move to Tottenham may have been for the burgeoning talent, surely not even he could have dreamt of the existential rise that would soon follow.
The fact that Dele’s transfer was sewn up in the February of 2015 meant that the youngster arrived at the club come the beginning of the season with relatively little fanfare, slipping seamlessly into the club’s preseason training with consummate ease; a man willing to learn but also hungry to prove himself at the very top of English football.
It didn’t take long for Alli to grasp his opportunity, with the teenager setting the pre-season campaign alight with a glorious nutmeg on the former White Hart Lane fan favourite and Real Madrid Galactico Luka Modric. With one moment of magic, the Englishman had already signified everything that his blossoming game was about – an unerring marriage of arrogance and bravery, coupled with an elegance on the ball and ability to read play that far outstripped his League One roots.
The statement that Alli had made with this moment of pure brilliance was painstakingly clear – he was ready to mix it with the big boys.
From man-managed to midfield linchpin
Whilst Alli had truly lit the exploits of the pre-season’s activity, Pochettino’s refusal to throw him in from the off was clear testament to the Argentine’s acute man-management skills, as well as signify his desire to nurture Alli’s potential.
Instead, Pochettino chose to introduce the squad’s latest addition from the bench as the season kicked off. A 77th minute debut in the 1-0 defeat to Manchester United was followed by a maiden goal in his second outing as he came on in the 65th minute in the 1-1 draw against future title winners, Leicester City.
Pochettino continued to place his trust in Alli, as another draw – this time a goalless performance against Everton at home – saw the beginning of Spurs’ season continue to splutter along. With four games gone and just three points accrued, it was time for the manager to fully place his belief in the raw talent of the boy from Milton Keynes.
With the international break having been and gone, Alli was given his chance to prove himself with a maiden Premier League start against Dick Advocaat’s Sunderland. Whilst not on the pitch as Mason swept home in the dying embers of the game, Alli’s creative play and athleticism across the pitch had not only proven to the manager that he was a man that could be called upon but that his assets were more than a match for the style of play that Pochettino was looking to impress upon his team.
And so it proved, as the team pushed on over the remainder of 2015 – amassing 12 wins, five draws and just a solitary loss as the boys from N17 pushed on in pursuit of their goal of a Champions League position; Alli a key element of the team’s drive towards success.
Alli’s blossoming from an exciting prospect into a first team regular at Spurs had quite rightfully caught the eye of England manager Roy Hodgson, who took the bold decision to repay the youngster’s incredible domestic form and draft him into the England squad.
In the face of scrutiny from many a pundit, Hodgson held firm in his belief that the youngster was worthy of a place within the England set up.
In a game most notable for its touching tributes to those who had lost their lives in the Paris terror attacks, Alli made his mark on the international scene with a commanding midfield performance that included a wonderful strike from distance that lit up what was an otherwise sombre affair. Alli had justified the manager’s faith in his ability.
Scoring in a 2-0 victory, in an atmosphere unlike any other that you are likely to come across in an international match against a near rival, Alli’s emphatic debut had proven that he had the mettle to stand up and be counted for once called upon.
In a match where many senior players had been unavailable for selection, Alli and fellow debutant Eric Dier had proven they were ready for the international big time, as Hodgson remarked: ‘I thought we played very well, it was as good as I’ve seen us play here at Wembley for a long time. They have given me what I wanted to see.
‘It was different type of performance from us. We might have big players missing, but the players said to me tonight: “Don’t worry because we are here.”
He finished: ‘This group of players have big potential’. So it has proved, with Alli and his Tottenham teammate set to be intrinsic parts of the international set up come Euro 2016.
The rise and rise of Dele Alli
Whilst Alli continued to highlight his precocious talent towards the end of 2015, as we surpass the half way mark of 2016 it seems ever more apparent that this could be the year that the Englishman truly defines himself as one of the hottest properties in world football.
Establishing himself as one of the leading lights within the Tottenham line-up, Alli continued to grow into one of the Premier League’s best all-round midfielders as the boys in lilywhite fell just short of a maiden Premier League title under the watchful eye of Mauricio Pochettino.
With 10 goals, nine assists and an impressive 55 chances created, it seemed little surprise to all that had followed his season with even a shred of interest that Alli was recipient of the esteemed PFA Young Player of the Year award. To contextualise the 20 year old’s rocketing into the stratosphere of English football, Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho managed just eight goals and five assists over the season.
With a PFA award already in his possession following his maiden Premier League bow, one wouldn’t bet against further individual acclaim coming his way in the not too distant future.
The dark side of Alli’s mercurial temparement
Whilst Dele may have established himself as one of the Premier League’s most exciting young players, an underlying darkness to his game has also shown its ugly head at times in 2016.
Whilst moments of petulance, including an kick out at Fiorentina’s Nenad Tomovic in this year’s Europa League and an apparent stamp on Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace, Alli’s reputation for letting his temper boil over in the critical end of season match against West Bromwich Albion.
In a heated encounter that more or less saw the possibility of a Premier League title taken from the hands of the Tottenham players’ hands, Alli was seen to lose his head with a punch to the gut of opposing player Claudio Yacob as they contested a corner. The moment seemed indicative of Tottenham’s inability to retain composure at such a critical point in the title challenge and was a clear indicator that for all his talent, Dele has much to learn about what it takes to become an elite player.
His moment of rashness let the team down at a critical moment in the season and went some way to spoiling his PFA Young Player of the Year award. As with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Luis Suarez before him, it seems Dele must learn to either temper or harness his wild streak if he is to find that balance between genius and madness on the pitch. Hopefully, this is a feature of his game that can be tied down to the inexperience of youth
With Euro 2016 around the corner, it feels as though we could be on the verge of a watershed moment for the effervescent midfielder. With the youngest squad in the tournament, it feels primed for Tottenham’s young guns to stamp their authority on the international stage and big moments seem to be expected from this player in particular.
Like Rooney in 2004, or Owen in ’98 – it feels as though this may well be the moment that a burgeoning talent grabs world football by the scruff of the neck and demands the attention that their ability deserves.
As the wheels set into motion for an all-new season at White Hart Lane, there can be little doubt that Dele Alli is ready to move up yet another gear in his footballing education.
Be excited for what’s set to come.
Written by Joe Thomas
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