Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino gave a candid response when asked at the start of the season about the recurring hamstring injury that has blighted Dele Alli for almost two years.
Speaking about the far from ideal prospect of starting another campaign with one his key players on the treatment table the Argentine said: “I think it’s the same area [as previous injuries]. We are worried. He is still only 23 and has had many hamstring problems in the last few years. He needs to pay attention a little bit about what is going on in his body but we are here to help him."
Any manager would be concerned about the frequency and recurrence of such a debilitating issue. However, Pochettino touched on something that should be even more troubling.
Alli is only still 23-years old. His startling progress over the past few seasons is in real danger of grinding to a halt in the boggy terrain of injuries and burn-out. As the new season springs to life, it would be fair to say that the Spurs playmaker is now facing the most important campaign of his career to date.
If he is to reemerge in 2019/20 as one of the country's foremost creative talents then he is going to need more than a little help and nurturing from his club as he battles some severe fitness problems.
Despite his young age the midfielder has already clocked up a staggering 336 appearances for club and country. Such an inflated figure illustrates just how much Spurs have come to depend upon the wonderfully talented youngster since his arrival from Milton Keynes Dons in 2015/16.
Worryingly though, his progress has stalled as the burden of playing every week, has started to take its toll on his body.
The numbers go some way to backing this up. In 2016/17 as he scooped a consecutive PFA Young Player of the Year award, the England international had just enjoyed his most productive season.
Notching a very impressive 22 goals in all competitions, he also registered 13 assists and was named in the Premier League team of the season. However, since those heady days just two seasons ago, Alli's influence has begun to wain.
Those prolonged hamstring problems have seen a dramatic reduction in the attacking threat and the energetic flair that were hallmarks of his game
He hit the back of the net just seven times in all competitions last season as he battled a dip in form and confidence which were clearly by-products of his time in the treatment room. That instinctive, at times unplayable, rapid link-up play with his teammates was non-existent and he looked to be frequently playing within himself.
This decline culminated in a near anonymous performance in the Champions League final against Liverpool in June. He was simply unable to exert any influence on the proceeding in Madrid and looked a shadow of the live-wire, box-to-box presence he has so often been for Spurs.
Alli is going to need a lot of game management under Pochettino this season if he going to regain his best form. The youngster has missed a total of 78 days since the beginning of 2017/18. Coupled with another lengthy lay-off with a thigh problem last season a clear and worrying pattern is emerging.
Spurs recent self-imposed austerity and withdrawal from incoming transfer activity meant that the onus was on a core contingent of just a few first-team players to carry the load pretty much twice a week, every week.
Pochettino's style of play is all-encompassing and extremely demanding on its operators. Alli's recent knocks may well have been exacerbated by this heavy work-load. And whereas other clubs had the luxury of deeper squads and could take their time with injuries the same could not be said for the North London club.
Spurs were simply unable to allow Alli to adequately recover from his frequent aches and pains. It's a scenario that is eerily reminiscent of Liverpool and Daniel Sturridge a few years ago, and we all know how that one sadly played out.
Football is a ruthless game that waits for nobody. Another season of regression and injury will serve only to make Alli's journey back to the top of his game more difficult. He is in danger of falling down the pecking order for England too, as Gareth Southgate currently enjoys a wealth of young attacking players to choose from when he assembles his national team squads.
He is, without doubt, a precious natural talent of the English game. Spurs have been over-reliant on his abilities over the past few seasons and are at risk of burning him out. They must now err on the side of caution and gently ease Alli back into the fray, allowing the player time to adequately heal and rest whenever necessary.
He should be about to enter the best years of his career. If he to end up as yet another cautionary tale of an overplayed, burnt-out youngster it would be a crying shame and a terrible waste.
Source : 90min