Not even Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino realised the scale of what Dele Alli has already achieved ahead of his 21st birthday on Tuesday.
“Wow. That’s unbelievable, no?” was Pochettino’s response when told that Alli has more Premier League goals and assists than Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes and Cristiano Ronaldo before the age of 21.
In fact, Alli’s combined total of 40 means he has had a hand in as many Premier League goals before turning 21 as Lampard (15), Gerrard (13) and David Beckham (12) combined.
“He’s special,” said Pochettino. “He’s a bit different to all the players that play now at his age. He’s so experienced. His energy, his character, his quality. I think he is a unique player. He’s different to another, it’s so difficult to compare to another.”
Alli’s goal in the victory over Watford was his 16th in the Premier League this season and the former MK Dons youngster has been the most productive player, in terms of goals and assists, aged under 21 in Europe’s top five leagues.
Asked if Alli is the best young player in Europe, Pochettino replied: “I think today, his age and with his stats, I think so. If not he’s the best, he’s one of the best for sure.
“He’s a great. First of all a great kid, I think he’s a lovely, lovely person. And then he is a great player. And then, he is so young he can improve a lot, he can 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.”
Alli’s character has come under scrutiny at times over the past two seasons, when he was retrospectively banned for punching Claudio Yacob and sent-off in the Europa League against Gent in February.