He is the best young talent in Europe, according to Mauricio Pochettino. He is becoming the perfect player, says Jamie Redknapp. Tottenham talisman Dele Alli has been eulogised by pundits, talking heads and supporters alike this season, and another wildly impressive display against Watford on Saturday (10 April) set tongues wagging once more.
Alli's performance against the sorry Hornets was capped off by an exquisite goal showcasing so many of the qualities that set him apart from players of the same age. His speed of thought helped him check his run and occupy the space just outside the penalty area, and the deft touch out of his feet allowed his grand technique to do the rest. It was a splendid goal, the eleventh he has been involved in during his last 10 games.
The former MK Dons starlet has gone from strength to strength under Pochettino at Tottenham and his displays have predictably drawn interest from some of the biggest clubs in Europe, including 11-time Champions League winners Real Madrid.
Given his age, talent, nationality and the presence of Daniel Levy, Alli would cost an astronomical amount, perhaps close to or even eclipsing the world-record fee Manchester United paid for Paul Pogba last summer. Not that it matters to the Real Madrid hierarchy, who are far from averse to making huge statements and buying the cream of the footballing crop. Even for a club as extravagant and brazen as Los Merengues, parting with £90m (€105.4m) or more for a 20-year-old who does not fit their current – and rather successful – system, with no European pedigree of note, seems a bridge too far.
Under Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid have seldom strayed away from a 4-3-3 formation, with Casemiro providing the platform for world-class playmakers Toni Kroos and Luka Modric to carve out openings and stretch defences with their wondrous distribution.
Ahead of them, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale essentially pick themselves when fit and operate very differently in comparison to Tottenham's forwards. Despite being deployed centrally, Benzema is the foil for Ronaldo and Bale, who go beyond the Frenchman and wreak havoc in a multitude of ways. This is all very different to what Alli has become accustomed to.
At White Hart Lane, the soon-to-be 21-year-old is supported by two holding midfielders in the form of Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele, leaving him with no real defensive responsibilities to speak of. Harry Kane spearheads the attack in contrast to Benzema, whose best work is done outside the penalty area.
In Real Madrid's current formation there is no place for a second striker, the role that brings the best out of Alli. He could be shoehorned in the midfield three or even deployed on the left wing, as Pochettino has done on a couple of occasions this season, but it would be downright nonsensical to spend an inordinate amount of money on a player who can't be accommodated into their starting line-up without wholesale changes to the system.
Madrid can of course change their ways, but is Alli good enough to make the biggest club in the world to rejig their shape? More to the point, is he good enough to even play for Real Madrid? In a squad where players such as Isco and James Rodriguez struggle for game-time the England international would be hard pressed to oust the creative duo for a place on the bench, let alone Kroos and Modric for a position in Madrid's engine room.
The Premier League can be guilty of living in its own little world at times. Teams can undeservedly be lauded to high heaven, while players are often touted to be the next this or that, when the reality is rather different.
That is not the case with Alli, who has proven himself to be one of the leading lights in the English game. But he is still yet to establish a footprint on the European stage, which has transfixed Madrid for over 60 years.
When Real came knocking around North London for Gareth Bale and Luka Modric, the pair had already cut their teeth in the Champions League, with the former even scoring a hat-trick against Inter Milan at the San Siro. While Alli's lack of experience in Europe's premier club competition is through no fault of his own, it will certainly count against him when the Real Madrid hierarchy consider their summer business.
While Real Madrid may harbour an interest in the burgeoning superstar, who could no doubt play for an elite club such as Los Blancos should he continue improving at the same rate, a move to bring Alli to the Santiago Bernabeu in the summer could prove to be a costly error, rather than a substantial but wise investment for the future.
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- Dele Alli is blossoming into something special at Tottenham - but will Real Madrid come calling?