Since joining Tottenham for £5m as an 18-year-old in 2015, it's all been a bit of a blur for Dele Alli.
Moments of sheer brilliance remind us just how good the attacking midfielder can be when at his best, but they're often dampened by a painful inconsistency that has numbed his game in recent years and stagnated his path to the top.
The romantic love affair with Mauricio Pochettino's Spurs seemed to allow the likes of Dele to get complacent at times. The England international set the world alight in the 2016/17 season as his side finished second in the Premier League, eight points clear of third-place Manchester City, but has never quite managed to follow that campaign up.
That season, combined with reaching the Champions League final in 2019, seems to have given off the illusion that everything in between those two highs was equally as solid. But it wasn't.
The truth hurts, but the fact is that Spurs began to coast under Pochettino and that has affected Dele, who seems to have gotten comfortable with his role in north London. Instead of progressing from that 16/17 campaign and becoming one of the most complete midfielders in Europe, Dele has become the 'nearly' guy.
He continually shows glimpses of just how unbeatable he can be, but inconsistency has stopped him from making anything of it and kept him as a B- player. But there's much more to him than that; Dele has the potential to be the A+ player of any team he likes. His glimpses of talent have shown that he has the tools to become a world class midfielder, and the 2020/21 season - José Mourinho's first full campaign with Spurs - is his last chance to show that he can achieve that in north London.
The 24-year-old was simply electric in 2016/17. Fresh off the back of his first full campaign with the club, Dele looked to have found his groove at the top flight and proved himself to be the rising star of the Premier League, not just Spurs.
22 goals and 13 assists from 50 appearances in all competitions, the Englishman was a vital cog in the machine. It was an assured season that showed off his finest attributes; aggression, composure, wonderful technique, while he was also an advanced reader of the game. Alli would often push beyond the opposition defence, timing late runs to perfection and having a pop at goal, or drift wide and set up a teammate with the space he had left for them.
He struggled to follow it up the next season, however, managing 14 goals and 17 assists in all competitions. It was by no means a bad return, which is perhaps why his drop off in form has gone under the radar, but his inconsistencies showed.
Injuries disturbed him throughout 2018 and into 2019, which again has contributed to a drop in consistency and thus an apparent drop in performance. Alli, despite still only being 24, is no longer the young prospect who can shift the blame on his lack of experience, and Mourinho has recognised that.
In the already famous 'All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur' Amazon Prime series, one of the first things Mourinho did upon his arrival at Spurs was pull Alli into his office and make it clear just how good he can be, but why he isn't there.
Pochettino's sacking served as a wake-up call at Tottenham and Mourinho is the pesky morning alarm that never switches off, no matter how many times you want to press snooze. Suddenly, there's a pressure on Spurs as a club and a squad of players to justify Pochettino's removal, which can only breed hunger. Alli was one of the first to understand that last season, and he looked refreshed under new management.
He bagged three goals in his first three games under Mourinho, and while it didn't quite translate through to the end of the season for the England international, it's a solid start. Alli responded to Mourinho's wake-up call and Mourinho has responded to Alli, who has been crying out for someone to believe in him and give him the kick up the backside that he needs.The two seem like the perfect fit on paper. Both are immensely talented and possess a strong mentality - when they want to - and if there's anyone who can ensure that Alli becomes an elite calibre player at Spurs, it's Mourinho. But it has to be this season.
If Dele Alli can't seem to find his groove under a similarly wired Mourinho at Spurs this season, then it feels like it's time for him to open a new chapter in his career. Mourinho's arrival at Tottenham was a fresh start, but Alli may need a completely new beginning outside of north London if it doesn't click this season.
There's a world class player ready to burst out of Dele Alli, but without ever taking the risk and finding that challenge, there's a chance it might never come out.
Source : 90min