Dele Alli and the development of the Raumdeuter role
Have you ever watched Tottenham Hotspur play and wonder what is it that makes Dele Alli to be considered such a terrific footballer? Watching Spurs play might give an impression that Dele is somehow ‘overrated’ especially when he doesn’t always appear on the score sheet whereas if you concentrate on his all-time stats, you might end up considering the 22-year-old as one of the best forwards in the premier league. The reason for this is because of his undefined nature.
Dele Alli’s stats combines both of an elite attacking midfielder and a goalscorer but then he is not the best creator in that Tottenham team neither is he the best finisher in front of goal. The accolades for creating chances goes to Cristian Eriksen while both Harry Kane and Son Heung Min are better at finishing off goal-scoring opportunities.
In fact, the 22-year-old doesn’t seem to possess a particular set of quality. He isn’t the best dribbler, an elite passer of the ball nor does he have a blistering pace to stretch out opposing back-lines. He doesn’t have the virtues of an archetypal attacker nor a creator of goals but here he is, in the highest echelons of football.
Dele has managed to clock over 120 appearances for Spurs while also being a national team regular at the age of 22. He has also won the PFA young player of the year twice and also thrice managed to be in the PFA team of the year. Dele Alli isn’t blessed with extreme physical and technical abilities but he has the Intelligence and tactical awareness to be considered and rightly so as one of the finest attackers in the modern game.
Just like Bayern’s Thomas Muller and Napoli’s Jose Callejon, Dele is an exponent of the Raumdeuter role - thanks to his good football intelligence and his instinctive use of space. Their efficiency mainly relies on their mental and tactical strength and perhaps this is what makes it less visible to the eye.
The origin of the Raumdeuter role
The term became famous following Thomas Muller’s interview in 2011 where he was asked to explain his rather unique role by a journalist. Muller’s reply is what gave birth to a new football role which is based on the strength of a player and not an aspect of a tactical system. The Raumdeuter is a term coined from the German language which simply means ‘Space Interpreter or investigator’. Muller who is the finest exponent of the art is perhaps the one who is mostly recognized among the three.
The German International was handed his Bundesliga debut by manager Jurgen Klinsmann but it was not until the 2009/10 season when he made his breakthrough under manager Luis van Gaal. Van Gaal’s style of exploitation of spaces benefited Muller greatly in his early career and set the foundation to fully put his unique attributes into practice. Muller then featured prominently in Jupp Heynckes treble winning team before he went on to be the top scorer at the 2010 world cup in South Africa.
Muller’s best potential was then unlocked by Pep Guardiola during his spell with the German’s heavyweights. In his tendency to stretch the field as wide as possible to create a platform for his possession-based football, Guardiola used an attacking front 4 with two wide wingers Muller was the shadow striker to Robert Lewandowski and this allowed him the freedom and space to roam in the attacking areas while the build-up phase was undertaken by others. The German international found the net 32 times in all competitions in Pep Guardiola’s third season, his best season in terms of stats in his career.
Understanding the role
The Raumdeuter is a role rather than a position. Neither Muller nor Alli takes specific positions on the pitch. Players involved are given the license to roam in the attacking third and they usually drift between the midfield and the defense of the opposition. His superior anticipation and the proper reading of the game makes Dele Alli to always be a step ahead of the rest.
Frank Lampard once highlighted the ability to find himself in dangerous areas unmarked as Alli’s biggest strength. The 22-year-old has an unrivaled ability to locate good starting positions in the build-up phase, execute perfectly timed and angled runs to find blind spots between defenders before finishing off attacking moves.
In this case, Raumdeuters are more dangerous without the ball than with the ball because this is the time they do most of the work. Their tendency to get themselves in the right areas at the right time makes their contribution to be merely put down as a fortune rather than their tactical astuteness. They often employ double movements to get away from the attention of players and makes their runs unpredictable.
Mauricio Pochetino’s game at Tottenham Hotspurs requires the team to quickly exploit spaces left by the opposition through movement of the ball once it has been recovered. This quick transition suits Alli’s attributes very well as he is able to find the spaces to directly attack the opposition. The difference in tactics between the national team and the club is what makes Dele to slightly struggle to express himself when in national team duties.
Throughout their careers, Muller and Dele Alli have played in almost all the positions in the attacking third but their roles remain the same regardless of where they are deployed in the field. Their role might not be easily defined when playing but they are always there to deliver the most important stat in football, the final ingredient courtesy of their instinctive use of space and unorthodox form of movements which makes them very difficult to pin down.