A precociously talented young player fluttering their eyelashes at a super club is nothing new. Just last summer, Kylian Mbappe flirted with PSG to the point of being asked to get a room by his current parent club Monaco, in the form of a season-long loan leading to an eventual £166 million move.
At the age of 21, he has become a mainstay in Mauricio Pochettino’s dynamic Tottenham side, and has won 22 England caps since 2011. He is a shoo-in to start for the Three Lions at the World Cup, and is already a Spurs centurion. Just two years ago, he was playing for MK Dons in League One.
His rise has been remarkable, but he is now a lightning rod for criticism from some sections of Spurs supporters. His form has been erratic in recent weeks, drifting from disinterest to what has appeared to be active sabotage.
In a seemingly straightforward home encounter with West Bromwich Albion at Wembley, Alli failed to trap a throw-in, and the Baggies broke to score. Spurs scrambled to rescue a draw but it was two points lost – Alli, unsurprisingly, was given the treatment on Twitter afterwards by irate supporters.
It might seem an oxymoron, but the criticism comes from a place of affection; Spurs fans have not seen such a midfield talent since the days of Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart, and Alli has the ability to dominate games.
Indeed, newspaper reports continue to link him with a move to the Bernabeu, to don the white shirt alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and, of course, Modric.
Fate paired Spurs with Madrid in the Champions League group stages and, after returning from a suspension for a red card picked up in the Europa League last season, Alli played the game of his life at Wembley as Pochettino’s men enjoyed a glory glory night.
The 3-1 win was built on Alli’s hard running, his flair for the outrageous and his clinical edge. He scored twice, and the chants of ‘We’ve got Dele Alli’ had the famous old stadium’s floor vibrating.
Alli is an intoxicating talent at his best, able to shimmy and sway, and best even the best defenders on the planet. Yet, since that performance – those of a cheeky disposition would suggest it was a come-and-get-me plea – Alli has regressed.
After missing the 1-0 win over Crystal Palace at the start of November with a hamstring injury, he was clearly unfit against Arsenal, and was withdrawn – to the delight of the Emirates Stadium support – after 75 minutes. Spurs lost 2-0.
While Alli has scored seven goals in the Premier League this term, all of them came prior to the encounter with Real. Since, he has started five games, mustered just eight shots in total, and struggled to stamp his authority on matches.
It must be noted that he has provided three assists – compared to one before the famous Los Blancos win – but there is something off about the way he is playing. Indeed, he has been forced to make 6.1 recoveries per game, suggesting that his passing is both wayward and hurried.
Alli is aware of this, himself. Speaking before the Champions League encounter with APOEL Nicosia, the midfielder admitted that nobody is harder on him than himself.
"I'm my own biggest critic. Every time, I know when I'm not playing well, when it's not going well for me," Alli said on Tuesday. "There are always positives and negatives in every game. I've learnt a lot so far this season and in the two years previously.
"Obviously, I would like to be at the highest level, in every game, in every single training session, but I don't think that's possible.
“It's been an opportunity for me to learn more about myself as a player and as a person, so I'm looking forward to it and I've got to keep enjoying it. It's important that I keep working hard to learn and improve as a player."
Improvement is a part of Spurs’ mantra. Pochettino often speaks of the virtue of self-improvement, of drive, of the need to always want to better one’s self.
Alli must do just that, with Spurs struggling for form and surely out of title contention. After last weekend’s draw with Watford, they lie closer to the relegation zone than leaders Manchester City.
Both club and player have struggled to do it in the mundanity of the Premier League, instead saving their best for the marquee encounters.
If Alli is to ever have any chance of moving to Spain, and if Spurs are to rescue their season, the England international must start producing week in, week out.