LONDON: Dele Alli’s goal-scoring feats with Tottenham Hotspur were put into perspective by an arresting statistic that emerged after he scored in his side’s 4-0 victory over Watford.
Having scored or set up 40 Premier League goals, Alli has had a hand in as many goals before turning 21 as Frank Lampard (15), Steven Gerrard (13) and David Beckham (12) combined.
Alli, who turns 21 on Tuesday, has emerged as the most exciting talent in English football and Chelsea great Lampard believes he could go on to surpass his Premier League record of 177 goals from midfield.
“Could he score more than me? He could do. Of all the midfield players I’ve seen who score goals, he’s the one who is the best at it,” Lampard said.
“Dele Alli is a special player. He’s better than me when I was 20, that’s for sure!
“We talk about (Chelsea’s Eden) Hazard being the best player in the league. I don’t think Dele Alli is that far away from him.”
Alli’s opener against Watford on Saturday, a glorious, curling effort from 25 yards, was his 16th in the league this season — more than any player below 21 in Europe’s top five leagues — and 19th in all competitions.
His headline display came against Chelsea in January, when a brace of headers gave Spurs a 2-0 win that brought the league leaders’ 13-game winning run to an end.
Typically operating as a number 10 behind England team-mate Harry Kane, the lithe and elegant Alli is a pivotal figure in the high-octane young team built by Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino.
With Kyle Walker, Eric Dier and Danny Rose also in the first XI, Spurs have a strong English core and Alli demonstrated his attachment to the club by signing a six-year contract in September.
“First of all he is a great kid, a lovely person, and then he is a great player,” says Pochettino.
“And then he is so young he can improve a lot, learn a lot. His potential is massive. But every day he’s improving and every day he gets more mature.
“He’s improving in his skills, but in his character as well.”
Character is one thing Alli does not lack, but his fieriness occasionally spills over into excessive aggression.
He was sent off for swinging a punch into the midriff of West Bromwich Albion’s Claudio Yacob last April, landing him a three-game suspension that ended his season.
In February this year, he was widely condemned after getting sent off in a Europa League game against Gent for a horrendous challenge that could have left Brecht Dejaegere with a broken leg.
The dismissal yielded another three-match ban, meaning Alli will miss half of Spurs’ group-stage fixtures in next season’s Champions League if, as expected, they qualify directly.
Disciplinary problems have dogged Alli since his formative years at Milton Keynes Dons, where manager Karl Robinson would ask him to wink at the bench to show he had not lost control.
Pochettino, though, sees Alli’s edge as a strength rather than a weakness.
“This character is perfect for a player,” says the Argentine, no stranger to the referee’s notebook during his own playing days.
“When you are winning and you feel that to lose on the pitch is like losing your life, that is what we want in a player.”
Having been named the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) Young Player of the Year last season, Alli looks set to be nominated for both senior and junior honours in this season’s awards.
With each goal, he renders the £5 million ($6.2 million, 5.9 million euros) fee that Spurs paid third-tier MK Dons to secure his services in February 2015 all the more remarkable.
He is one of the first names on England manager Gareth Southgate’s team sheet and having already eclipsed the youthful endeavours of Beckham, Lampard and Gerrard, a glittering future beckons.