Dele Alli
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Tomasz Baranowski

The downfall of Dele Alli

It takes a big person to admit they were wrong, not least when Jose Mourinho has been in the right all along. In 2020, Amazon Prime Video’s All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur lifted the lid on behind-the-scenes events at Spurs, highlighting Mourinho’s player management both on and off the pitch.

Viewers were right to jump the gun with series spoilers: when it came to the seasonal ultimatum of ‘all or nothing’ at Spurs, they were hardly likely to come away with any accolades. Dele Alli’s season was no different.

Mourinho spoke with Alli about his potential and his work rate in training and on a matchday: “I have no doubts about your potential. I saw you do incredible matches and incredible things, but I always felt you had ups and downs. One day I think you will regret [it] if you don’t reach what you can reach.”

Prophetic and almost foreboding at the time, in hindsight, Mourinho’s words should have been heeded as a stark warning. Two years on and after a spiritless spell at Everton, Alli signed for Turkish side Besiktas on loan. It seems shocking that at 26 — in what should be the prime years of his football career — Alli has felt forced to move to Turkey to rediscover his footballing form.

On 21 December, Alli was booed off after just 29 minutes in the Turkish Cup against third-division side Sanliurfaspor. Besiktas had found themselves 2-0 after a quarter of an hour but went on to win 4-2. Football Twitter has been merciless in the last week.

Five years ago, many would have expected Alli to have been recovering after a World Cup campaign with England, but the midfielder is a shadow of the player he was in his Tottenham prime. So what has gone wrong for Dele Alli?

One day you will regret [it] if you don’t reach what you can reach

– Jose Mourinho

Alli had been regarded as one of the future stars of English football. After his first 100 appearances, he had more goals and assists than Paul Scholes and Steven Gerrard combined at the same milestone. Alli was capped 37 times for England, with his last appearance for the Three Lions coming in 2019. At this juncture in English football, there was hardly any reason to speculate that Alli would be part of the England set-up going forward. After signing a new six-year deal at Tottenham in the 2018-19 season, he picked up two hamstring injuries one shortly after the other.

He fell out of favour when Mourinho replaced Mauricio Pochettino. Despite starting well under the ‘Special One’, Alli was relegated to cup runs in the Europa League and the League Cup. Mourinho’s examination of Alli in the documentary was brutally honest. It did not seem as if Mourinho was acting up for the cameras and hyperbolising the situation. It was clear he was worried that Alli would waste his potential — and looking back, it was a well-founded fear.

Alli struggled for form under Nuno Espirito Santo and was not often selected by Antonio Conte, which led the 26-year-old to be sold to Everton to work under Frank Lampard. He failed to make an impact and was loaned out to Besiktas for the 2022-23 season with an option to make the move permanent. Judging by head coach, Senol Gunes’ comments that “Alli is below expectations in terms of efficiency”, it does not seem likely that Besiktas will be taking Alli on next season.

It is difficult to pinpoint what exactly has gone wrong for Alli. His disappointing downfall over the last few seasons has served to reaffirm Mourinho’s warning words and damage Alli’s future footballing prospects. There is something that managers and head coaches see in Dele Alli, but it is hidden beneath injury setbacks, stagnant form and what appears to be a poor work ethic in training.

Dele Alli’s all-or-nothing move to resurrect his career seems to be in jeopardy, but with the second half of the season to come, perhaps he can slowly rediscover his form. What remains ever more clear is with every lacklustre performance, Mourinho’s words will be resonating even more profoundly in Alli’s mind: “One day you will regret [it] if you don’t reach what you can reach.” It is difficult to see such a promising career wasted.

The Instagram comment section might now think twice before spamming ‘come to Besiktas!’ under a transfer prospect’s post!

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