Dele Alli was subbed off at half-time as Spurs lost at home to Everton in their first game of the 2020/21 Premier League season.
Now, being subbed off by José Mourinho at half-time isn’t necessarily a damning thing. The Portuguese has done it so often during his career (especially in England) that it’s almost a rite of passage at this point.
The problem for Dele is that this sub came just a couple weeks after Amazon’s “All or Nothing” documentary aired, which revealed how confrontational Mourinho had been with him.
Mourinho’s official excuse for removing Dele was tactical: “[Everton] were playing with only one player in front of the defenders. [Andre] Gomes and [Abdoulaye] Doucoure were pressing higher on [Harry] Winks and [Pierre-Emile] Hojbjerg. Lots of space, very easy to play around for Allan in this area there.
“I felt we needed more creation there. Lucas was one of the players who for me was physically better because he was one of the guys who had a very good pre-season,” he said after the match.
There’s so much to read into that, but what’s most notable is that he doesn’t once say Dele’s name. He just refers to the players he wanted to star, rather than the player who had underperformed. Dele is so far from Mourinho’s thoughts that he didn’t even warrant an insult or pithy remark. That’s as bad as it can get for a player, really – is he even a featured player in Mourinho’s plans?
The key winners and losers as Jose Mourinho suffered a managerial first – https://t.co/VrgyAioewS
A tale of two transfer windows.
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Obviously Dele is a sublime talent, but his problems under Mourinho are down to the way the system is played. In his natural role, Dele is a goalscoring attacking midfielder. That should gel perfectly with Mourinho. After all, the reason Frank Lampard is a legend is because of his development as a goalscoring attacking midfielder under the Portuguese tactician.
So it would be tempting to say that Dele has to simply “work harder” to get better at what he does, and score more, but will that be enough to win Mourinho over? Goals are a priceless commodity in football, but with Harry Kane and Heung-min Son in attack, Mourinho has access to lots of them so they are, to a degree, devalued (to an extent). What he doesn’t have is what he specifically namechecked in his reasoning for subbing Dele: creation.
Since the start of 2016/17, no one has scored more Premier League goals than Harry Kane’s 93, and only Kevin de Bruyne has created more chances than Christian Eriksen’s 304. The thing is, Christian Eriksen doesn’t play for Spurs anymore, and you can really tell.
Mourinho’s post-match comments to the media gave Dele a clear route not only back into the Spurs first XI and his coach’s good graces, but also a route back into form. Focus on the creative element of his game, work on being a conduit and creating chances for others.
Dele has the talent to do this. Look at the best moment Spurs have had in the last few years: Lucas Moura’s winner against Ajax. Ye,s a lovely finish from the Brazilian. But a finish made possible by a gorgeously deft flick of the ball from Dele.
No one is expecting Dele to turn into Xabi Alonso and start smashing 40 yard passes all over the place, but if he works on getting into spaces that allow him to feed team-mates instead of trying to score, then he will begin to provide something unique to Mourinho. And when you can provide something unique, you make yourself indispensable, which is just what Dele wants to be.