In an interview earlier this year Sir Alex Ferguson said: ‘I thought Dele Alli was going to be a top player, I must admit. I don’t know what’s happened there.’
The good news for Alli is he has time to prove Ferguson right. At 25, his best years should still be ahead of him. The bad news is that it is going to be a long way back.
From the boy that had the world at his feet as he returned home from England’s euphoric run to the World Cup semi-final in 2018 to warming the Tottenham bench under three separate managers – you wonder how it has all come to this.
Dele Alli’s best years should still be ahead of him but it is now going to be a long way back
The Tottenham playmaker thrived in the years under former boss Mauricio Pochettino (left)
The truth, as with most things, lies within a myriad of reasons – some of Alli’s making, some totally out of his control.
The biggest problem Alli has faced is a lack of self-confidence. Mauricio Pochettino made Alli feel like he could float on air.
During his 18 months in charge, Jose Mourinho slowly destroyed Alli’s self-belief.
It wasn’t merely the fact that he wasn’t playing, or left out of match-day squads altogether, under the Portuguese, but more pertinently the lack of communication.
Mourinho is cut from old school cloth; Alli doesn’t respond to that. Pochettino identified very early on that Alli requires an arm round the shoulder.
It’s no surprise that Alli’s most productive days as a footballer were under Pochettino and Karl Robinson, who both embraced the midfielder like he was family.
At his best, Alli was the swashbuckling central midfielder who swaggered across the football pitch with the air of a man who knew he was destined for the top.
Some will call it ego. Maybe it is – but the best players often have that arrogance. Off the pitch, however, Alli is an altogether different animal: a quiet and timid boy in need of support, not a rollocking.
It’s no surprise then when Pochettino tried to re-sign Alli for Paris Saint Germain last January, the midfielder was left devastated that Daniel Levy vetoed the move. Mourinho made a personal beeline to Alli at the time in an attempt to quell tensions. But by that time it was too late, the relationship was dead in the water.
During his 18 months in charge at Spurs, Jose Mourinho slowly destroyed Alli’s self-belief
The Special One’s eventual sacking in April and Nuno Espirto Santo’s appointment in the summer provided hope of a fresh start.
But after a promising start to life under the Portuguese, Alli quickly found that, much like Nuno’s predecessor, that Spurs’ new boss was from the tough love school of coaching.
Another trait Mourinho and Nuno had in common was for playing Alli out of position. He was often shunted out to wing under Mourinho or viewed as a midfield ‘runner’ by Nuno.
Injuries and fatigue after the World Cup also played a significant role in Alli’s downward spiral. Antonio Conte was only appointed last month but has already reached the same conclusion as Mourinho and Nuno.
Surely all three managers can’t be wrong? It would be difficult to argue against that assertion.
Injuries and fatigue after the World Cup also played a significant role in Alli’s downward spiral
Thankfully for Alli he has plenty time to prove his doubters wrong. The opinion that Alli became too invested in a party lifestyle isn’t a true representation of the player’s dedication.
Indeed, speak to those at Tottenham’s training facility when rumours of Alli’s alleged nights out on London’s celebrity circuit started to emanate he showed little evidence of burning the candle at both ends.
One training ground source said: ‘We’d always hear that he’d been going out a lot, but then you’d see him in training and you’d think there’s no way he could have been.
‘He was always at the front of running drills, always among the fittest players in the squad. He either wasn’t going out or he is just a freak of nature. It didn’t add up.’
The party-animal tag has stuck and it irks Alli, who is known to put himself through punishing training regimes during the close season.
Alli has fallen out of favour under boss Antonio Conte (right), with a loan switch looking likely
The party-animal tag irks Alli, who is known to put himself through punishing training regimes
While his dedication has been questioned, the fact he has taken it upon himself to take up yoga and hired a private nutritionist tells an alternative story.
Yes, he enjoys a night out during the summer months – but claims of big nights out on the town during the season is largely fictitious.
Certainly over the previous two seasons, Alli has been conspicuous by his absence on the party scene with the midfielder rarely pictured out let alone coming out of a club during the early hours.
With just weeks left until the window opens, Tottenham have decided that outcast Alli can go
So, all being well, he will leave Tottenham when the transfer window reopens next month.
And make no mistake, he wants to leave. Of course, his affinity with Spurs is undeniable – but his desire to play regularly football again supersedes those connections.
Alli will hope a January move can revive his once soaring career – if it doesn’t then it’s hard to see a way back.