Dele Alli could be edging closer to a January exit away from Tottenham Hotspur

Dele Alli

Can Dele Alli do it on a cold, rainy night in Burnley? History would lead us to believe so, but Tottenham Hotspur manager Jose Mourinho won't be handing the 24-year-old an opportunity to continue his excellent run of form at Turf Moor this evening. 

Alli has made a goal contribution in all three of his previous appearances away at Turf Moor, providing three assists and a goal, leaving him with a tally of three goals and five assists in seven appearances both at home and away against the Clarets.

Despite this impressive record, Alli did not travel north with the Spurs squad to Lancashire on Sunday, per The Athletic. With no known injury issues preventing him from making an appearance, the decision appears be a tactical one. 

Alli's omission is the latest setback in a slow-burning demise that is already beginning to feel like the next high-profile case of "where did it all go wrong?". It would be premature to rule out a revival and a return to the form that once made Alli one of the most prodigious talents in world football, but his new position on the periphery of Tottenham's first-team illuminates the extent of his tumble into relative obscurity. 

A widely-cited anecdote which emerged during Mourinho's early days in the job at Spurs alluded to the Portuguese's man-management proficiency and a jovial facet of personality that is somewhat at odds with his stern media persona. 

"I asked him (Alli) if he was Dele or Dele’s brother,” Mourinho said. “He told me he was Dele. ‘OK,’ I said. ‘Play like Dele.’”

The Mourinho effect instantly bred individual results for a reinvigorated Alli, who notched three goals and as many assists in the first four league games post-Mauricio Pochettino, but the new-manager bounce has proven to be brutally short-lived. 

Alli

We can only assume that Alli's brother is once again masquerading as the generational talent Sir Alex Ferguson once claimed to be the best young English midfielder he'd seen since Paul Gascoigne.

Though there is a distinct absence of recent evidence to vindicate Ferguson's lofty comparison, the tendency to devastate defences which defined Alli's early foray into Premier League football told a different story.

There was something alluringly enigmatic about his natural ability to interpret space inside the final-third - one not dissimilar to the style cultivated by the original Raumdeuter, Thomas Muller - when he burst onto the scene.

Thomas Muller

He didn't play by the traditional rules or slot into a recognisable position on a tactical chalkboard, and the lack of understanding about where he positioned himself caused major problems for the opposition. In the three seasons between 2015 and 2018, Alli amassed 37 Premier League goals - many of which were stunning moment of individual ingenuity - and 28 assists.

Meanwhile, in the Champions League, the England international showed little sign of immaturity or incompetence on the grand stage, with a brace in Spurs' 3-1 win home against Real Madrid and a pair of assists in another giant killing victory away at Borussia Dortmund suggesting he was a player for the big occasion.

By December 2018, his £90m Transfermarkt valuation mirrored his status as one of world football's most coveted talents, and not just relative to his age either.

Since then, however, Alli's value has dropped to £46.8m while his career has followed the pattern of a chart-topping one-hit-wonder artist. The money, the fame - and probably the quality - are still there, but sporadic cameo appearances merely serve to reinforce the juxtaposition of what once was and what now is. 

Alli

Many will cite Alli's meteoric rise and use that to explain his current situation, claiming that his early achievements bred complacency and sapped his motivation at a crucial stage in his development.

Others will say off-field distractions have quite literally taken his eye off the ball, that he is lazy, unsuited to Mourinho's style of play, being left behind by modern tactical changes, or just simply not very good.

With the exception of the latter, there are probably shades of truth in all of those theories, but his injury record is also worth considering. Since November 2017, Alli has spent 136 days out injured with various muscle injuries, though he has been side-lined with hamstring problems on four separate occasions. 

Anybody who has pulled a hamstring will know that the recovery process is tedious and fraught with unpredictability, while every setback increases the likelihood of suffering a future problem. 

Mourinho & Alli

And, most pertinently, it changes the psychology of the individual. Doubts about certain movements start to creep in and confidence naturally diminishes. 

For a player like Alli who relies so heavily on his ability to move off the ball, arriving undetected in pockets of space, these physiological changes carry potentially insidious effects. 

Mourinho's decision to leave the former MK Dons wonderkid in north London tonight means he has now been selected in just two of Spurs' opening six Premier League matchday squads. Given the strength in depth of Spurs' attacking midfield options, the road back to regular first-team football looks paved with problems.

After tonight, Spurs face just two more league games before the international break and when they return from the two-week hiatus it'll be 21 November, just weeks away from the end of 2020 and the opening of the transfer window.

With Euro 2021 looming on the horizon, Jack Grealish, James Maddison and Mason Mount et al. providing stiff competition for places in Gareth Southgate's squad, and his recent international exile all likely to be running through his mind, a January loan move is looking increasingly more logical for Alli.

Grealish

First-team football has to be considered a priority and Spurs aren't providing that. From Daniel Levy's perspective, too, it makes little commercial sense to have an asset like Alli in footballing no-man's land, haemorrhaging value as every month goes by. 

There's no doubt that potential suitors will be intrigued by the prospect of signing him on a short-term deal, but Alli will need to play for a manager and a club who can facilitate his style of play and guarantee an extended run in the side; the reality is that he will need to find a less prestigious club than Tottenham to ensure he gets the latter.

As we reflect on his latest squad omission ahead of the game against Burnley, the footballing world will be starting to ponder an ominous pattern: is Alli following a similar journey to those many promising players that never were, or is he simply mired in a torrid spell that even the most complete players endure at least once in their career? 

Though Alli's imposter of a brother may have re-emerged again, the real Dele showed too much for too long to already have his best years behind him at just 24 years of age. 

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