Nobody who has watched Dele Alli carefully this past season would say that he had a bad year.
While his goal production dropped to nine in the Premier League from 18 a season ago, he has integrated himself more fully into Tottenham Hotspur’s offense. His assist numbers are up, and while he perhaps didn’t make “the leap” into super-stardom like many were expecting him to, his production was very solid.
However, that’s not the impression you’ll get from reading about him in the media. Football365 listed him as Tottenham’s “most disappointing” player of 2017-18, somehow conveniently forgetting that Moussa Sissoko was a member of Spurs’ squad. Elsewhere, pundits tut-tut about Dele’s dip in goal production, insinuating that he’s plateaued, or that he’s somehow failed to live up to the standards set the previous season.
But you know who isn’t having any of that? Dele. In an interview with FourFourTwo, Alli dismissed his critics as “just noise,” saying he’s happy with his production this past season, and is focusing only on himself and what he has to do in order to improve his game.
“Everyone has different opinions. If this is a ‘bad season’ for me then I’m happy to take that as a compliment. The only pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself. I am my own biggest critic. If you have the right focus, everything else is just noise.
“My focus is on being the best player I can be - when you expect that from yourself no one can expect more from you. I’ve worked hard to get this far but there’s always room for improvement.
”I’m sure if you asked Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, the two best players in the world, they would say they can improve on something. I want to keep on improving, I’m working with a good manager in Mauricio Pochettino who is hungry to help every player.”
Dele is going to heavily feature as part of Gareth Southgate’s England squad in the World Cup which kicks off in 11 days, and he has an opportunity to prove his critics wrong with a strong showing in the world’s biggest football competition. During qualifying and recent friendly matches, Gareth Southgate’s tactics made some wonder whether Dele was a natural fit in this England side, and to question whether Dele’s periodic hot-headedness might cause the Three Lions difficulties this summer.
But Dele says there’s nothing to worry about, that he’s learned and grown as a player and as a person.
“I wouldn’t say it’s something I’ve worked on. I am a big believer that you have to make mistakes to learn from them anyway. And, yeah, I feel I learned from the things I did before, but it’s not something I worry about at all.
”Obviously, I’ve done some things before and people seem to think that will be a problem - but it’s not. I feel I’ve got everything under control.”
Dele doesn’t strike me as someone who lets outside criticism affect him at all, at least not publicly. Still, it’s been curious to see the criticism leveled at him this season when it’s pretty clear he’s been very good (if not spectacular). Dele doesn’t seem to have a chip on his shoulder about it, but this summer does seem like an opportunity for him to prove his detractors wrong. Knowing Dele, he’s keen to take that opportunity, if only to troll.