Jose Mourinho and Dele Alli on the touchline at the Vitality Stadium. – GETTY IMAGES
There was a time when Dele Alli appeared destined for greatness.
Jumping up from League One to the Premier League shouldn’t be easy for any player, let alone a teenager, but 19-year-old Alli played with an effectiveness and confidence of someone far more experienced than he in 2015-16.
In his first top-flight season, Alli was a massive part of why Spurs were able to mount a title challenge, even if it fell short in the end, as Leicester City did the unthinkable.
But if there was an overriding sense of disappointment around Spurs for failing to capitalise on its greatest opportunity to win a first Premier League title, fans were also witnessing the early establishment of what looked to be a potential great in Alli, whose adaptation was seamless and, quite frankly, remarkable.
With 10 goals and nine assists, Alli’s goal involvements haul was up there with the best of them and he would only become even deadlier.
Alli went on to score another 27 and assist 17 over the course of the following two seasons, making rumoured interest from Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester City predictable, but understandable.
The speculation became strong enough for Daniel Levy to reportedly put a price tag of £150million on him, a figure that would’ve been a world record at the time.
He went into the World Cup an indisputable star, but since Russia, Alli has often appeared a shadow of his former self. Fast forward 17 months and he’s missed out on successive England squads, an outcome that would’ve been inconceivable not so long ago.
Such was his stagnation that some even suggested Spurs’ recent change at the helm represented a vital crossroads for Alli – that he’d been allowed to coast under Mauricio Pochettino, something Jose Mourinho simply wouldn’t tolerate.
“I asked him if he was Dele or Dele’s brother? He told me he was Dele. I said, ‘okay, play like Dele’,” is how an early conversation with Alli went, according to Mourinho. The fresh impetus and influence of the new boss seems to have done the trick.
For all the criticism of Mourinho in recent times, let’s not forget that, whatever his drawbacks, getting the best out of attacking midfielders is something he has a track record of. Deco, Frank Lampard and Mesut Ozil all thrived under the “Special One”.
By Alli’s own admission, he was “awful” early on against Olympiacos in Wednesday’s 4-2 win, but he improved immeasurably as the game progressed and scored the goal that got Spurs back into the contest having gone 2-0 down.
He took an even greater step on Saturday, scoring in successive matches for the first time since last December. But more than that, he looked like the Alli we became so accustomed to seeing punishing opponents at will.
Opening the scoring, Son Heung-min latched on to a direct pass from the back and laid the ball off – purposely or by accident, you decide – and Alli turned in having matched the South Korean stride for stride.
His influence in the first half was undeniable, with only Davinson Sanchez (50) having more touches of the ball than Alli (42), who was proving effective as a link-up player – his delightful flick to Son opening Bournemouth up during a 45th-minute counter.
There was rather more of an individual element to Alli’s fine second, controlling another lofted pass on his chest while on the run, holding off his marker and delicately chipping the approaching goalkeeper. It was the kind of effort one would expect of Harry Kane.
Spurs was cruising and Alli was unlucky not to claim a deserved first hat-trick for the club, but while Mourinho’s impact with him is plain to see already, there’s no doubt where his work is still cut out.
Defensively it capitulated and almost threw three points away again, conceding two for the third successive match and it almost allowed Bournemouth to steal a late equaliser.
While Alli appears to have taken the right route at his apparent career crossroads, Spurs’ defensive vehicle is in chaos akin to driving the wrong direction down a one-way street.