I’ve always thought maturity comes with experience, rather than age, and with Dele reaching his 22nd birthday, it does seem like he is making progress with regards to some of the disciplinary issues he has had in the past.
Our no.20 was tackled hard twice early on by Ryan Shawcross against Stoke on Saturday, but he says he successfully resisted the temptation to retaliate:
“I’ve been trying to improve a lot of aspects of my game and I want to keep my head [in those situations]. In the Stoke game, when the first tackle from Shawcross came in, I knew straightaway what he was trying to do.”
“He’s a nice guy but that’s the way he is – he’s an aggressive player. I didn’t want to react to him. I wanted to play my own game and I was really happy with the result.”
It was only back in December when he got into some scrapes against Manchester City so I’m not sure he has mellowed out completely yet, but it’s good to see he is trying to strengthen the mental part of his game further.
He has fought back from the media barrage he received following the international break with some great performances, and it looks to me that his determination to succeed at the top level has won out against the frustration he must have surely felt both from the criticism off the pitch and the provocation on it.
The playmaker may have only just turned 22, but he has played 140 games for us since his arrival in 2015, as well as playing 228 games in total at senior level during his relatively short career.
Despite achieving his highest ever total number of assists (17) in a single season, he has had to play through a period where his game has been greatly scrutinised. In the past, that may have led to some lashing out against opponents like Shawcross, but he looks to be making a concerted effort to avoid such confrontations.
All footballers are human, and Dele shouldn’t be too hard on himself about past indiscretions anyway, but I’m glad that the experience he has gained in the last few years has helped him to really progress, not just technically, but in all aspects of his performance on the field.
The players that become truly great have both emotional intelligence and footballing intelligence, and hopefully our midfielder is well on the way to ensuring he is balancing both sides of that equation.