Spurs' Dele Alli should be on senior POTY shortlist, not youth award again
When it comes to Dele Alli, there is no rush. The Tottenham Hotspur midfielder turned 21 on Tuesday and he has plenty of time to win trophies and personal accolades. Indeed, he is a shoo-in to retain the PFA Young Player of the Year award, having been confirmed on this season's shortlist alongside teammate Harry Kane, and he could conceivably win it five years in a row. Burnley's Michael Keane is also among the nominees, with Romelu Lukaku, Jordan Pickford and Leroy Sane.
Even so, it's an incredible injustice that Alli was not named as a contender for the senior award. Kane and Lukaku, the Premier League's two top scorers, are up for both, while Chelsea pair Eden Hazard and N'Golo Kante, Man United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Arsenal saviour Alexis Sanchez make up the six-man shortlist.
Firstly, it is absurd that Keane (only just 24 in January), Lukaku (24 in a month) and Kane (24 in July) are up for the young player award at all. Kane won it two seasons ago and Everton's Lukaku started his first Premier League match in May 2012. There should a cut-off point based on age and league appearances -- not just age. (Is 24 really considered "young" in today's game anyway when you have the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Marcus Rashford and Christian Pulisic around?)
It also makes sense to ensure that a player cannot win both, as Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo have done in the past decade.
But even under the current parameters, Alli deserves to be recognised as one of the league's top six senior players. Hazard and Kante are fully deserving of their nominations as the two most important players in Chelsea's relentless charge to the title but, behind them, no-one in the country has been better than Alli and no-one at Tottenham has done more to keep the title conversation alive.
Alli was off-colour in autumn, in common with the rest of Spurs' team, but just as Bale did in 2013-14 he has gone to another level in the second half of the season. He has been head and shoulders above Sanchez -- who stopped playing a month ago -- and Ibrahimovic in 2017. His absence is another indication that the nominations are too heavily weighted towards early-season form.
He has scored 16 league goals -- more than any other Under-21 player in Europe, and remarkable for a midfielder -- and 11 have come since the turn of the year. Kane, Ibrahimovic, Lukaku and Sanchez have all scored more than Alli -- just -- but there is a separate award for that, and all four remain in contention for the Golden Boot.
This year's nominees are simply the top four goal scorers plus two, and the award is in danger of becoming another recognition of goals, rather than performances. Ibrahimovic, Kane, Lukaku and Sanchez have not been as consistently good, or as decisive at the key moments as Alli.
His clinical, carbon-copy pair of headers in the 2-0 victory over Chelsea in January, ending the Blues' 13-match winning run, confirmed him as a man for the big occasions and he did it again when Spurs were 2-0 down at Manchester City in February, scoring at the back post as Spurs recovered to draw 2-2.
His late goals against Everton and Swansea recently, the latter of which dragged his team back into a must-win game, have been among five goals in six league games, ensuring the pressure is still on Chelsea. By contrast, Sanchez, a shining light in Arsenal's gloomy season, has scored once against a top-six rival this year and with his temper tantrums he is not blameless in the Gunners' demise either.
Alli's stats have been well-documented since his stunning strike against Watford last weekend: he was directly involved in as many Premier League goals (40) before turning 21 as Frank Lampard (15), Steven Gerrard (13) and David Beckham (12) combined, and his contribution also compared favourably to Cristiano Ronaldo, who was involved in 25 goals by that stage of his career.
Kane remains Spurs' homegrown hero but Alli is the club's poster-boy and star man. While Tottenham are yet to lose a game without Kane -- thanks, in part, to Alli's goals during the striker's recent absence -- where would they be without Alli?
Ibrahimovic, Lukaku and Sanchez are all their team's most important player too, but in clubs placed fifth to seventh in the table. They have not affected the very top of the table in the same way as the Tottenham man.
All's manager Mauricio Pochettino said he could be better than Neymar this week and agreed that the midfielder should have been part of the six-man shortlist when asked on Thursday.
"I think yes," he told a news conference. "He has shown great performances every week, every game. He's improved a lot from last season -- I think he is a better player, showing better stats. In my opinion, yes, he deserves it.
"Last season, he made a big impact. In his first season in the Premier League, always the people want to see if he can confirm it in the second season. Not only has he confirmed that, he has improved in every aspect of his game. He is clever, intelligent, has potential to improve and learn. Today he has shown he is one of the best players in the Premier League."
Tottenham have won the Young Player of the Year award in four of the last five seasons (Kyle Walker, Gareth Bale, Kane and Alli -- with Hazard winning in 2013-14), and seem odds-on to do so again this year with Alli. But their current star should have been considered for this season's top award.
If he continues his trajectory he could one day be named as the best player in the world, let alone in England. And that may make the decision to omit him from the senior award this season look rather foolish.
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.