Increasingly – less than two months into his Goodison tenure – the suggestion in certain anti-Merseyside sections of the media has been that the Blues will ‘cut their losses’ and cash in on the former England star in the summer.
Stan Collymore, writing more reflectively in his Mirror column on Tuesday, pondered on the question of mental health, and channelled his own experience by suggesting the player should think about quitting if he has lost his love for football.
Yet the truth about Everton’s move, for a twice PFA Young Footballer of the Year and Champions League runner up, is told bluntly in the ‘fee’ the Blues paid for his services. Dele has 37 caps for England, which interestingly for context, is more than half the number combined of Everton’s most famous midfield of all time – Kendall, Ball and Harvey – who between them were capped only 73 times.
Despite this figure, despite all his achievements and his 67 goals from midfield for Spurs at the highest level, despite his still youthful age of 25 and the fact he had two and a half years left on his contract, boss Frank Lampard paid precisely nothing for his services up front.
As the newly appointed Everton manager said at the time of the signing, and stated firmly again just before the international break, the deal was “not a panic buy, but a long-term plan.” The Merseyside club knew what they were getting. A player who hadn’t performed in the past two Tottenham seasons under three managers whose dour style was never going to utilise his talents correctly.
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They knew a player who had scored 62 goals in his first five seasons at Spurs, had contributed just five in the past two years, and four of those came against minor opposition in the ‘stiffs’ competitions of Europa and Europa Conference Leagues. Lampard spoke extensively to Alli before Everton signed him, gauging his mental state and his appetite to put his career back on track. He also asked bluntly if the player had any love left for the game.
The answers were sufficiently encouraging to take the plunge, even though he knew Alli was in no physical condition to begin contributing anywhere near the level he had been when an England player. His last international game came in 2019. Since then, it hasn’t been just a steady decline, but a disappearing act, from Tottenham’s first team, from the England conversation, from the limelight.
Everton knew that. The stats are there, available even to the casual observer. Lampard discussed it openly when the player joined at the end of January. In March, just before the international break, he said it would offer a chance for the player to “put in some important work” with “individually constructed plans”.
He also spoke directly about the almost hysterical reaction to Dele’s performances so far in a blue shirt. After a desperately poor opening as an early sub into a horrendously disorganised Everton team at Newcastle, he has been sparingly used. But there were signs of the old Dele in an intelligent display from the bench against Manchester City, where he performed a tactical role.
Lampard remains positive, as he inevitably must, after taking what has been described by insiders at Goodison as “a small, calculated gamble” on a player they felt could find his form under a more sympathetic manager, who understands his positional needs rather more clearly.
“People are talking as if Everton paid £40m for him,” the source said. “We didn’t. We pay nothing until he has proven himself, and his salary also reflects that structure too. So yes, it was a calculated gamble, because the stats said he was a long, long way from his best form. But Dele Alli at his best form would be worth in excess of £100m in this market, not ‘free’.
“And Frank Lampard is a manager who knows attacking midfield more than most. The player has obvious talent, but lost his way under managers with defensive mindsets. The club took the chance to see if a more understanding manager can help the talent flourish again. But it was never going to be a short term fix. It was really looking towards next season and beyond.”
Lampard himself suggested as much just before the international break, insisting there is no panic and no timescale. “I don’t think we have to panic, to rush, when we signed Dele I certainly saw it as a long-term plan because I really have that massive belief in him as a player. At the moment he has contributed and he has to be patient and wait for his time at the start.
“He was particularly good against Manchester City and showed a discipline in his performance which was required in the game. But it is a matter of time and being patient. It is probably about his condition too, and learning a bit about myself and how my staff work and then fitting into the team. That takes time, but it is a long term plan.”
That said, there are some around the Everton training camp who were surprised at just how low the starting level was with Dele, and particularly his fitness for a player who had made 19 appearances for Spurs this season.
There are confidence issues too, and Lampard is under no illusions that the ‘calculated gamble’ may not pay off, though he is clearly prepared to wait until after a proper training camp, and the chance to put the player into an Everton side with more confidence and belief…which won’t come until next season.
Only Dele can truly say if he still has the desire to get back to the summit of the game, as Collymore suggested. But his current position is no surprise to Everton. That’s why they will pay £10m only after 20 Premier League appearances…not the £100m+ he would have cost two years ago. And all the talk of the club “ditching” him already, simply fail to take that obvious fact into account.