At first glance, Dele Alli to PSG looks like the silliest tale in all of silly season. A transfer that surely can’t happen and surely doesn’t make sense. He’s been struggling for ages now; how could he fail upwards?
But give it a bit of thought, and it turns into a sort of reverse Jesse Lingard to Everton; rather than a move that makes lots of obvious sense but would almost certainly be rubbish, this might be a move that makes no sense but turns out to be wonderful.
First, and most obviously, it definitely makes sense for Dele to try and get himself some kind of move over the next couple of weeks.
Even if it’s only a loan – in fact, perhaps best if it’s only a loan, at least initially – he plainly needs to be somewhere else. Somewhere where he might get to play some football.
Right now, it does not look good for him at Spurs. He is way out of the first-team picture, failing even to make match-day squads, and the one game he might have played has been covided off.
With Gareth Bale now in the mix, it’s only going to get harder for Alli. There quite simply isn’t a spot for him with how Spurs will now line up.
While the Bale signing garnered all the attention, the simultaneous arrival of Sergio Reguilon also works against Alli because it leaves Spurs’ squad even more suited to a 3-4-3 or variant thereof.
Reguilon’s arrival means Ben Davies can be deployed on the left of a back three, while it’s already clear that Matt Doherty is far happier as a right wing-back than a traditional right-back.
The 3-4-3 makes best possible use of Spurs’ elite attacking trio and their wide players, while applying the best available sticking plaster over the open wounds at centre-back and in central midfield.
Eric Dier, Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko are all obvious winners here, as are Giovani Lo Celso and the now at least partially reintegrated Tanguy Ndombele. The one big obvious loser is Dele. He cannot play in this system.
It is a fate he has already suffered at international level: a number 10 in a team that doesn’t really have one.
He cannot play as one of two central midfielders, and would never be more than a makeshift option in either the wide or central attacking positions. His best work for club and country has always come when operating behind but crucially very close to Harry Kane, whether as a true second striker or the most advanced and central of the three in a 4-2-3-1, where he can find pockets of space and make decisive runs into the box.
That position is no longer part of Tottenham’s Plan A, and probably not Plan B. If Alli isn’t even on the bench, it isn’t even Plan Z.
So he probably needs to move, whatever Jose Mourinho might choose to say in public.
But where? There is no clear move within the Premier League even if Spurs were willing to countenance it. None of the other ‘Big Six’ teams have obvious use for him, and nor do the next level clubs like Leicester or Everton. Alli himself would be unlikely to consider anything below, and they probably couldn’t afford him anyway.
Which all leaves proposed links with PSG – on the face of it preposterous – starting to make sense. Alli would not be the first player to fail upwards, nor the first to be reinvigorated by a move to a bigger club in a lesser league. At PSG right now there is the case of Mauro Icardi to provide the blueprint for Dele. A promising career stagnating, not quite fancied by a former Chelsea manager, joins PSG on loan, things pick up, permanent deal.
PSG’s 4-3-3 arguably doesn’t provide a perfect Alli-shaped hole for him either, but it’s easier to see him fitting into that midfield three with, say, Ander Herrera or Idrissa Gueye and Marco Verratti in behind him than it is to see how he finds a regular spot at Spurs.
And without getting into any farmers’ league nonsense, let’s not pretend that PSG are not an absurdly dominant club in a division whose overall standard is a step below the Premier League’s. It is not disrespectful to anyone to suggest Alli will have fewer day-to-day defensive responsibilities in a PSG midfield three than a Tottenham midfield two.
He could absolutely thrive. It’s worth noting that even during struggles that have gone on for at least two years now, he has still returned pretty reasonable numbers due to his proficiency as a finisher. He still scored eight goals in 25 Premier League games last season; it’s not fanciful to suggest that at PSG – even without any material improvement in his game – could lift that from a goal every three games to a goal every two, as he managed during his standout Tottenham season in 2016/17.
A player who right now would not be particularly coveted by any of the top eight or nine in his own country joining the biggest club in the one just over the water appears crazy. But it might just be mad enough to work.