Dele Alli’s Besiktas move does not signal a stalled or wasted career

Dele Alli’s Besiktas move does not signal a stalled or wasted career

Dele Alli’s Besiktas move does not signal a stalled or wasted career

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Dele Alli has moved on loan to Besiktas, where he remains in critical condition. The Everton midfielder was flown to Istanbul on Wednesday night, where he is expected to play in the Turkish Super Lig, a disease widely believed to be incurable. Of course, everyone at the Guardian sends their best wishes to Dele at this difficult time.

OK, but seriously for a minute. How should we think about this? Perhaps the most natural reaction was to conceive of Alli’s career in terms of defeat. On the one hand there is a melancholy sadness for the player that we all assume he could be: the wonderful goals not scored, the trophies not won, the cheeky nutmeg not executed. “Now he has gone to Turkish football”, Sky expert Paul Merson complained, “we will never see him again”.

Related: ‘The focus must be there’: outgoing Alli booked by Lampard for training

So you have the other end of the spectrum; the “no sympathy” brigade, the joyful and performative contempt exhibited by a certain type of football observer. “He has no one to blame but himself,” you’ll hear some rented radios scream into the void, a sentiment designed to inspire contempt but actually demands the opposite.

Can you imagine a more desolate fate than being the sole architect of your own failure? It is eloquent how easily this discourse strays into the register of morality and deception. As if not exploiting one’s talent was a sign of the failure of some basic character. As if not being able to join the Everton team somehow makes you a bad person. As if at some level he began his career in debt to us, owing us the fullest expression of his gift, and fully responsible for unpaid payments. Dele Alli, your expedition was light for 100 Premier League goals and three World Cups. The bailiffs will be round and round in the morning.

Alli is not, according to most accounts, a bad person. He has been popular pretty much everywhere he has played. Frank Lampard spoke last week of a lack of “focus”, and if there is some sort of smoking gun, then it’s that vague air of ambivalence, the sense of a player who has never bled enough for our taste. He could have trained harder. Maybe he could have wished it a little more. Perhaps, as José Mourinho memorably wrote in the documentary All or Nothing, he will regret these lost years for the rest of his life.

What if he decided that the sacrifices required for 15 years at the highest level are not what he wants from life?

I have a theory about Alli. Maybe that’s nonsense, but listen to me. He grew up among the gray soulless properties of Milton Keynes, with an absent father and a chaotic upbringing that he is still reluctant to discuss. A place where you could disappear through the cracks and no one would notice. A life without shape, color, angles, trust or true company. Football has given him all these things. It gave him security and a family.

There was a lot of skepticism in 2017 when, at the height of his powers, he appointed his best friend Harry Hickford as his agent. But also: Isn’t there something indelibly touching about appointing your best friend as your agent? This is a lurid and venal world, but we will face it together, the two of us.

Dele Alli in action for Besiktas against Sivasspor.

Dele Alli in action for Besiktas against Sivasspor. Photograph: Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

By way of a bribe, it is intriguing how many players of that beautiful, furious and fragile Tottenham team under Mauricio Pochettino have never had the same spark or hunger afterwards: Danny Rose, Mousa Dembélé, Harry Winks, Victor Wanyama. Perhaps for some players there is more alchemy between training and performance than we would like to admit: a specific energy that only the right manager in the right place at the right time can truly deliver, and against which everything else must appear a bit monochromatic. .

Reaching the summit was the culmination of Alli’s life ambition. Being there never seemed to be. And there seems to be an assumption that all footballers must be absolutely, inhumanly voracious in their desire. What if Alli had decided that the life-changing, ligament-bending sacrifices needed to train and play for 15 years at the highest level aren’t what he wants from life? What if he just wants to play, earn, live? Why should we judge that choice more harshly or sadly than that of the ruthless conqueror who craves only triumph and acquisition? Because this is not a failed career, a wasted or squandered career. This is a player who grew from Milton Keynes Townships to be one of the best in the world, who scored for England in a World Cup, who played a Champions League final, who gave millions of unimaginable thrills. of people.

Sometimes we forget how good you have to be just to breathe this air, even for just a second. Does it matter if he happened at 22 or 32, if he earned 30 appearances or 100? Besides, who really knows what he wants? Alli is 26, an age when most of us are still fixing things, getting it wrong, finding the shape of ourselves. Maybe there doesn’t have to be a cinematic climax to this story. After all, he is now in Turkey: the horror, the horror. Playing for one of the largest clubs in the region, in one of the largest cities in the world, in front of an audience of 40,000 spectators.

When Alli arrived at Ataturk Airport, delusional fans flocked to greet him and throw flowers at his feet. If I showed this scene to young Alli and told him it was a picture of humiliating failures, he wouldn’t have a clue what you were doing.

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