So, what makes Dele Alli an elite midfielder? Let’s set aside any definition that depends on titles. Dele isn’t a title-winning midfielder, for now. However, he possesses great technical ability but also a special fiery temperament. He soared from League One with MK Dons to a starting place in the Premier League in the space of just a year. Now, he has taken his game even further to become one of the elite.
An elite midfielder isn’t just an average player who does a job. They are players that are able to change games by themselves with their skill. Dele is capable of those tricks, flicks and passes to unlock defences. However, the most important and refreshing part of his game is his ‘dark side’ as mainstream media would love to exploit at every opportunity.
Dele Alli: Elite Midfielder
Dele’s ‘Dark Side’
The ‘Dark Side’ is a bit of a ridiculous term. However, it summarises the shunning of any kind of passion or spark in modern football. The game is being sterilised and thus figures like Dele’s interfere with the game’s trajectory. It is his impetuousness, sometimes his rash challenges and other times interactions with the fans (2-0 to Tottenham after the water bottle incident against Arsenal) that creates his infamy. This kind of energy isn’t found in anyone else in the Spurs squad, not exactly. Heung-Min Son, Harry Winks and even Moussa Sissoko play at steadier, more consistent levels.
Dele is a player who may drift away for a moment before staking a key role in the match. A moment later he can switch on and set up a goal. He is, though, also able to put in a strong tackle, playing as if in the middle of a Sunday League derby match. His game is one that is aware of the rules and he will transgress them, sometimes at the risk of being called a cheat, diver or a thug.
Dele is an offensively minded midfielder. Thus, if he is to be elite, he needs goals. He has plenty of them. At 22 years of age, he has already notched 75 club goals. Thus, he has reached the goal-scoring levels of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard (at ages 27, 26) so early in his career. As with all statistics, this one is a little problematic. Dele plays in a more advanced position, and it is hard to cross-refer two different periods of football. But, this should surely be disregarded for the sheer amount of goals he has managed so early in his career.
He scores goals in all manners of ways. Take a look at his headers against Chelsea. Most recently, his delightful chip against Arsenal or his follow-up finish versus Everton. His contributions are incredibly helpful. It is largely his positioning that allows for this. In his role in midfield, he can float in front of defences, making the later runs, or he is able to make those incisive runs behind. This is a nightmare for defences to deal with.
The 2018 World Cup was a special one for England. It was also Dele’s first sample of the top international competition. He played 1271 minutes across the entire World Cup campaign (including qualifiers), in which he scored two goals and made three assists. This includes his back post header against Sweden in the quarter-finals. Indeed, his performances were impressive and he competed well. There is no doubt that he will continue to be an important player for his country. Although, as with seemingly most of the Spurs contingent of England internationals, Dele perhaps isn’t as effective for his country. However, this is merely down to the varying system and roles associated with Southgate’s style of play.
If an elite player or midfielder has to win a title, then that would have excluded a great number of fantastic players over the years. However, Dele won’t have to wait long, surely, before getting his hands to a trophy. Regardless, he is scoring a steady supply of goals, whilst winding up players, referees and fans alike. So early in his career, Dele is yet to reach his peak level for club and country. These are exciting times ahead for this elite level player.