Dele Alli – The boy with the thorn in his side

by Sam Marland

From opposition fans to ex-pros, everyone seems to be lining up to question Dele's form and honesty on the pitch. Sam Marland adds his thoughts on our talented midfielder.

It’s easy to forget now that he’s firmly established himself as a national treasure, but for large parts of David Beckham’s career, he found himself continuously questioned and doubted as both a person and a footballer. For a long time it seemed as if everybody had an objection to his choice of lifestyle, his clothing, hair styles, and even his wife. Sure he brought some of this on himself, but professionally he had to face ludicrous question marks over his temperament, and his ability with the ball in open play. These of course were total garbage, you don’t get to play for Madrid, Milan, Manchester United and PSG by being a one trick pony but they certainly take their toll and detract from a once in a generation talent. In fact it wasn’t until that qualifier against Greece at Old Trafford when he almost single handedly lead England to the 2002 World Cup, that the nations football fans finally accepted that they were indeed lucky to have him at all.

Which takes me on to our very own Dele, because there are direct parallels to be drawn here, obviously on a much smaller scale, after all, Dele doesn’t court quite as much press as Beckham did, but he does suffer from a similar type of scrutiny from both the press and opposition fans, while seeing his huge talents often go largely unappreciated.

Up until the recent international break, you really didn’t have to search far and wide for negative Dele Alli press, every day there seemed to be a constant stream of ex pros queuing up to give their hot take on whether or not the latest penalty incident involving Dele was or wasn’t a dive. Even Alan Shearer, a man who kicked a fellow professional in the head and got away with it, felt it appropriate to wade in and accuse Alli of simulation.

You really didn’t have to search far and wide for negative Dele Alli press

Of course it isn’t just ex pros and fleet street hacks sharpening their knives, it’s opposition fans too. From the beginning of a game which has been devoid of incident, every single touch of Alli’s will be booed by fans regardless of whether he has wronged them in the past or not. Luckily for Spurs fans, this only seems to improve Dele’s performance as he often rises to the challenge of further winding up the sheep-like fan-base of the opposition, be it with flicks, nutmegs or most recently a cupped ear celebration after an equaliser.

As we all know, Dele Alli isn’t the first player to find himself painted as a hate figure in the Premier League, the likes of Robbie Savage, Joey Barton and James Maclean don’t exactly unite fan-bases and football writers alike. But in Dele we’re talking about one of, if not, the most talented player in his age group within Europe. A young man who, at 19 effortlessly walked into a Premier League side fighting for the league title, went straight to a major tournament as a first team player with England and has agents and brands fighting it out for his signature.

He often rises to the challenge of further winding up the sheep-like fan-base of the opposition

It seems as if Dele the footballer has been put to one side, his unbelievable talents eclipsed by this obsession with supposed simulation and gamesmanship. Would England fans rather have a well behaved workmanlike midfielder playing for them? A polite robot who does the basics right, much in the mould of James Milner? Or would they rather a 21 year old who effortlessly glides around the pitch scoring and assisting but occasionally gets involved in controversial incidents? I know which I prefer but sadly having an ounce of personality and a huge desire to win will never really endear you to the Alan Shearer’s and Burnley fans of this world.

So how does Dele turn all of this negative press around? Can he win over the hate mob? And does he actually want to? I would personally prefer him to continue doing exactly what he’s doing, winding up opposition fans while still being an integral part of an ever improving team. But you imagine the only way for him to become English footballs equivalent of Ant and Dec, is to do what Beckham did back in 2002 and score a glorious last minute goal at the World Cup. Perhaps then Dele can lose his current title of the Premier Leagues most hated and finally start to receive the respect his enormous talent so duly deserves.


Sam Marland


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