The final nail in Dele Alli’s coffin came at Everton in the early weeks of the season.
With options poor on the ground at Goodison Park, the former Tottenham and England player has been heralded in some quarters as a potential temporary solution for manager Frank Lampard.
After a particularly humble start to his time on Merseyside, it looked as if Deeley would finally have a chance to turn the page.
But then came the disdain. Not once but twice. Young winger Anthony Gordon was favored in the central batting role against Chelsea and Aston Villa, despite limited success in the first game of the season. Once again, opportunity passed on Dele.
Now that opportunity at Goodison has completely vanished.
It says a lot about Dele’s time at Everton that the club were prepared to let him go even as injury problems persisted. It seems that the teenager who once had the world under his feet is no longer good enough for the Premier League and will instead ply his trade in Turkey with Besiktas. He joined on loan with the intention of moving permanently. Besiktas will not pay the loan fee.
It is a fall from grace that many have not seen during those very successful days at Tottenham under Mauricio Pochettino. Instead, it’s a demise that seemed inevitable, according to the evidence of the past few seasons.
At this point, it must be admitted that the decision to get rid of Deeley is not a purely ballistic one. As always with this contemporary version of Everton, there is a financial basis, too.
Besiktas will take a large portion of the 26-year-old’s wages, and pay a guaranteed wage of €2.2 million, with a maximum of €10,000 per match, depending on the time and competition of each match. Everton will also avoid having to pay a £10m fee, with Dele missing seven appearances the agreed 20-match payment limit with Tottenham.
Although Tottenham are entitled to a decent percentage of any profit Everton makes on the midfielder, there is still a huge saving to be made on a player who is no longer necessary at Goodison.
In hindsight, Jose Mourinho’s cautionary words to Dele in the Amazon Prime documentary, All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur, became a fitting symbol of Dele’s time in the Premier League.
“I am now 56 and yesterday I was 20,” Mourinho said. “Time is running out. One day, I think you will regret it if you don’t reach what you can.
“I don’t expect you to be the man of the match in every game, and I don’t expect you to score goals in every game. I want to tell you that I think you’ll regret it. You should ask more of yourself.”
The challenge for Mourinho, Lampard and any coach since Pochettino has been to reignite Dele’s fire again.
They all tried, and they all failed, and Lampard was the latest to fail.
Dele has been an inviting challenge to managers since his performance plummeted. Everyone knows that the talent was still somewhere, and many tried to convince her.
In January, Lampard became the last to try his hand.
This wasn’t a move that happened suddenly.
Working in a vacuum Following the departure of director of football Marcel Brands and chief hiring officer Gretar Stenson, Moshiri and Everton’s board of directors took charge of improving the struggling side in the January window.
Interest in Dele goes back to Lampard’s arrival date, even if it is also true that the pair are represented by the same CAA Base. Everton had known of Dele’s availability for some time and initially explored a loan transfer.
It is understood that Moshiri and his teammates have sought opinions from across football on the potential signing, with some of those they spoke to expressing reservations about the move. The general opinion was that reviving Dele would be a huge challenge, especially when Mourinho, Antonio Conte and others had already failed. Failed case? Can.
For some with a sophisticated knowledge of Everton’s setup and operations, the transfer was seen as a sign that lessons had not yet been learned. The pursuit of another lackluster star, at Dele, means the club has been regressing to the old ways that got them into trouble last season. Others offered a more nuanced view, emphasizing the potential still in his game if someone could find a way to harness it.
From all sides, I felt Lampard could be a suitable mentor, and the Everton boss was keen to try and reach the midfielder.
Dele’s name was the name that emerged during Lampard’s last job interview at Goodison, as Everton’s board presented potential targets for candidates for further discussion. Confirmed as the new manager late in the window, Lampard signed the deal before the deadline.
Strengthening his midfield was a major priority as he looked to overhaul Everton’s style, and he was for a long time a fan of the talents of his new player.
Having exhausted their share of domestic loans on Anwar El Ghazi and Donny van de Beek, and with little cash, a buy now pay later deal was struck that worked under Everton’s financial structure.
Dele reached out to Goodison both as a high-profile signing – someone whose name and stature in the game appeals to Moshiri in particular – but also as a long-term project.
Given the extent of his fall, the general feeling was that it would take time and arduous yards, on all sides, to make the necessary forays.
By the start of April, as Everton’s turbulent season reached alarming new heights with consecutive defeats to West Ham and fellow relegation fighters Burnley, it was noted that Dele had become an underused substitute.
The same is true of the narrow win over Manchester United that gave much-needed hope. With pebbles on the desired wall, Dele wasn’t an option.
This raised questions for the manager, who revealed that he felt the need to sit with the player privately and stress some basic requirements.
“In the past two weeks, Dele’s training has been in place,” Lampard said, reflecting on his reaction to his interference. “I explain a lot to him in terms of training and application requirements, and being ready when that moment comes.
“I don’t think the story will ever be simple with Deeley after the last two or three years. Sometimes you have to work and fight through things, and we’re in the process with him.”
Lampard’s diplomacy, cautioned with a more positive assessment, is not the first time he has carefully discussed Dale’s need to do more.
He previously said, “Delly has to train and show he’s in that thinking.” “And every time he comes in, he has to show he’s worth starting a game.”
He felt the need to repeat it again on the eve of the new season. “The first thing Dele should do is bring consistency to his training and that’s something I talked about,” said Lampard. “For me, full training is non-negotiable, and Dale needs – required – to understand this which is important to me and him.”
The penny seems to be only temporarily down. At times, there was an inner feeling that even the youngsters from the under-23 team were making a more compelling case for their inclusion in last season’s training sessions. For Lampard, who operates on the basis of in-play training, this was a red flag.
Like many of his teammates, Deeley chose to reside along the M62 in Manchester.
Initially, he lived at the Lowry Hotel in Salford, where Mourinho resided for much of his tenure as Manchester United manager, before moving with his girlfriend to an apartment in the city.
A move to North West and Everton was seen as a beneficial step away from the distractions of the capital, where things have gone so poorly professionally. A chance to start over.
On holidays, it has been observed that Deeley usually returns to London.
This does not mean that he has not tried to establish relations with his Everton teammates. He became friendly with Dominic Calvert-Lewin and was generally popular in the dressing room, although to others at the club he did not look like a typical Everton player.
Although he was not rude or disrespectful to the staff, he could seem strange and detached at times. There have also been concerns in some quarters that his business activities outside of football, such as his clothing line, could unhelpfully affect players such as Gordon, Calvert-Lewin or Tom Davies.
There will be evasive hints about turning the corner. Deeley returned from his summer vacation in Capri and the Turks and Caicos Islands in perfect condition. He’s been running during the break and has been well positioned to impress during the early sessions at Finch Farm, when he regularly leads the group in the running sessions.
But even that and two goals in the penultimate summer warm-up match in Blackpool were not enough to convince Lampard, who is keenly focused on hard work, that Dele will offer a solution in the first two games of the season.
It was as if the pause in every positive corner was beginning to erode Lampard’s confidence that consistency would one day arrive.
Dele created the crucial equalizer for Richarlison in a home draw with Leicester at the end of April, but managed to score just 18 minutes in the next defeat to Liverpool and a win over Chelsea. Cue three more matches as an unused sub. The opportunities were so fleeting that he was unable to muster any real momentum.
However, his best and most significant moment was the match-winning performance from the bench in May’s victory over Crystal Palace, which ensured Everton’s survival in the First Division.
The quality and desire to display during that unforgettable night can be a watershed moment. But by the time he got his first and only start, in the last game of the season at Arsenal, that momentum faded.
The lack of a clear role in the team did not help. At times, it has looked as though Dele has been homeless in the Everton system, and perhaps even the broader modern game in general. Lampard said it was an option in the ninth inning but declined to use it.
Although the manager also hinted at potential broad attacking powers, Dele appeared to lack the dynamism to replace Demarie Gray, and there was never an easy fit for the split striker role which was also mentioned as his suit.
There was a feeling in some quarters that the arrival of clearly spoken and hard-working pros like James Tarkowski and Conor Coady to supplement Jordan Pickford and Seamus Coleman could have led to more Dele-led realities. It was feared that this made him shrink even more into himself.
“Sometimes it’s support and sometimes it’s hard love,” Lampard said in response to another question about how to revive Deeley’s form. “Sometimes you have to hear serious things to make the best of yourself. Dele or any player, that is.”
There’s no way to know exactly how he reacted, of course. But this lack of conviction and consistency left many in doubt when Everton needed clarity and expediency.
In the end, the prospect of an initial £10m payout to a player he was flattered for cheating made Lampard make a difficult decision.
“It seems the best thing is to move on,” says a source at the club, who asked not to be named to protect his role. “If all Daley contributed was the inscription against the palace, you could by itself say that it was worth taking a gamble.”
Merseyside is left with more questions than answers about his future. The fears that followed him from London to the northwest would pass to Turkey.
Lampard might have said it better. With Dele, it will never be simple.
Now it’s a puzzle for someone else to try to solve.
(Top photo: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)