Cartilage Free Captain is again reviewing and ranking the top 15 youth prospects at Tottenham Hotspur to see which players have the best potential to follow players like Harry Kane, Ryan Mason, Andros Townsend, and Nabil Bentaleb into the Tottenham first team. The rules for inclusion are as follows:
- The player had to be 21 or under on January 1, 2015
- The player cannot have seen significant match time with Tottenham's first team
We have finally reached #1 on our list of prospect rankings. And the owner of the top spot shouldn't be a surprise to anyone: it's Dele Alli.
Who is he?
First, let's be clear: there's no revisionism going on here. The prospect rankings were chosen earlier in the summer, well before Spurs started training and certainly before Dele Alli had played in any preseason friendly matches, whether they were behind closed doors or televised internationally. This is not to pat ourselves on the back, just to say: we knew he was good, just maybe not this good this quickly.
Bamidele Jermain Alli is the best young player at Tottenham Hotspur. Hands down. A native to Milton Keynes, he came up through MK Dons' youth system and very quickly became a star at the lower leagues of English football. He made his debut as a sixteen year old with Dons in 2012, who were then playing in League One, and established himself as a regular two years later. Spurs purchased him for £5m on deadline day of the January transfer window last year and he was immediately loaned back to MK Dons for the rest of the season. It was viewed at the time as an absolute coup of a signing.
In 2014-15 Alli was first choice for Dons, and dominated League One, scoring sixteen goals from central midfield, helping Dons secure promotion to the Championship for the first time in their history. Individually, Alli also made the PFA Football League One Player of the year, and more importantly, was named the PFA Football League Young Player of the Year... that's for the entire Football league, Championship to League Two.
What can he do?
Alli is a midfield monster. At 6'2" he has enough size to not get pushed around on the pitch, and he possesses a very keen footballing mind alongside bags of talent. He was quite clearly one of the best players in League One last season, but the concern was always whether that ability would translate to the Premier League. Generally speaking, moving up a division is tough, and skipping a division entirely represents a huuuuuuuge increase in opposition talent.
And Alli apparently took that challenge head on, impressing in training as well as Spurs' closed-door friendlies. We finally got to get a good look at him during the MLS All-Star match and in the two recent Audi Cup matches. So what did he do?
Oh, he only nutmegged Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.
Dele Alli is confident with the ball at his feet, and has up to this point not shown any particular tendency towards poor decision making and giving the ball away. He's also shown to be cool under pressure thus far, which is remarkable considering his age. He's not only proving that he has a high ceiling, he's showing that he has a very strong potential of being able to help Spurs out now. As a starter. For a top-six Premier League club.
Did I mention he's 19?
Where can he go?
Dele Alli shows every indication of becoming a central midfield star for Tottenham Hotspur. He's blown us away from the little we've seen of him in preseason, and he's causing all of us to become irrationally excited about a 19-year old kid from Milton Keynes.
The only caveat here is that Spurs already have a positionally sound young box-to-box midfielder in Nabil Bentaleb. We've talked to death about the problems of the Mason-Bentaleb midfield last season and how Spurs really needed a defensively solid partner to allow Bentaleb to get forward. Alli isn't that guy, but he might still work as a partner in the absence of anything better.
But that doesn't matter, because when you have a player of Alli's ability, you find a way to play him. Spurs perhaps have the luxury of being able to work him into the side over time, but he could almost certainly walk into the starting lineup for a number of clubs in the bottom half of the Premier League table.
Will he replicate his amazing statistics from League One with Spurs this season? Unlikely. Jumping from League One to the EPL represents a ginormous leap, and nobody should expect him to come in and dominate Premier League midfielders from the get-go, but he's clearly not awed by the challenge. He will get plenty of minutes with Spurs this season, whether those are league minutes or in the cups and Europa League. He might even start this Saturday at Old Trafford.
I've tried to not get irrationally excited by Dele Alli as a prospect. I really have. It's time to get excited. He's the best young player at Tottenham Hotspur, and given time he very well could develop into one of the best midfielders Spurs have had in years.