Dele Alli is the man in form. On Saturday he continued his incredible season with another wonderful strike from outside of the box against Watford. He is surely in line for this season’s PFA Young Player of the Year Award and if he continues the progress he has made, next season’s PFA Player of the Year Award could be his to lose. It is clear England have a serious talent on their hands. However, despite earning the acclaim he is receiving, we as football fans should exercise caution.
Alli is the latest in a long line of English talents to have raised our expectations when it comes to playing for the national team. “England expects” is the motto. It is the saying which we have attached to the likes of Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, Alan Shearer and Paul Gascoigne over the last 20 years. The Three Lions’ fans have gone into countless tournaments expecting the prodigal talent of the time to lead England to glory almost on his own. Alli is on the way to reaching that level of quality. But, it is that air of expectation that clearly cost our national team in the summer of 2016. The team’s performance against Iceland was inexcusable as our players withered under the pressure. This must not be allowed to happen again.
It is not since Wayne Rooney at Euro 2004 has one of England’s attacking footballers risen to the occasion of playing to their fullest at an international tournament. It is worth remembering that Alli’s own Euro 2016 was a poor one. He played on that miserable day in France and was as anonymous as anyone. Since then however his game has progressed. He is now a threat that opposing club’s defenders and fans alike fear ahead of games. If his form continues going into the World Cup in Russia, then he will surely be a player who opposition managers target and instruct their defenders to reserve special attention for.
The praise Alli has received from fans, pundits and commentators and the nation’s media has been richly deserved and if it continues there will undoubtedly be that increased level of expectancy. It’s important therefore that he isn’t shackled by this weight on his shoulders. We must remember he will be only 22 by the time the next tournament comes around and whilst Gareth Southgate will need him to perform, he will need similar levels of performance from a potential supporting cast of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana.
Let’s not break him as we have done with so many of our talents in the past by labelling him as our best hope of success.
Article by Charles Prisk