What is Dele Alli to Tottenham nowadays? Ask a bunch of Spurs fans and you’ll get plenty of different answers.
Some will say he simply doesn’t fit into a Jose Mourinho team, that his form over the past few years doesn’t warrant an automatic role in their regular starting XI, or that he needs a move to revitalise himself.
There will also be plenty who point to Spurs’ current over-reliance on goalscoring duo Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, and that the team needs another threat from midfield.
Neither side would be totally wrong.
Dele hasn’t hit the ridiculous heights he set himself during his first three seasons with Tottenham in recent years, and yet the fact that 22 of the 29 goals Mourinho’s side have scored in the Premier League this term have been converted by Kane or Son shows another option is needed.
It’s certainly sad that the England international has been reduced to starring in FA Cup third-round ties against eighth-tier opposition, but if nothing else during a period where his future is in serious doubt, his performance in the 5-0 Marine win displayed his evident talent. He also showed he still has a sense of humour after tumbling backwards onto the Rossett Park turf.
The treatment and the squad omissions have been weird, mainly because Dele remains in Tottenham’s 20 best players. Tanguy Ndombele is used essentially as a second striker, where Dele has played for most of his career, rather than a third central midfielder.
There is space for Dele to make his mark in the Premier League and other competitions this season. Tottenham are going to have to deal with fixture pileups and every member of the squad will likely be needed – especially if two to three games a week becomes the norm.
He’s too good a player to have only featured in four league games, with those appearances totalling just 75 minutes of action. He’s also been forced to tweet too often about his activities off the pitch, like Call of Duty: Warzone, rather than on the pitch matters.
There’s still space for Dele in this Tottenham squad. He might never be trusted to play alongside Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in central midfield, but it’s odd he hasn’t been used more while Ndombele has been building up his fitness. The Frenchman has got through 90 minutes just three times so far this season, with Mourinho often opting to take the midfielder off around the hour mark.
Dele evidently enjoyed himself on Sunday. The flicks may not have endeared him to his manager, who made a point of singling the 24-year-old out for criticism after the Carabao Cup win at Stoke, but he needed to make a point with a good performance and did just that.
Hopefully, that can be the start of some kind of Dele-aissance. There’s still a lot of football to be played this season, and he can be a difference maker in games if given the opportunity.