Dele Alli has not had an easy life – neither as a child nor since becoming a professional footballer. The player was one of Tottenham‘s brightest young talents, but his progress suddenly stalled. He left the London club in January 2022 and signed for Everton, who loaned him to Besiktas, where he struggled to refind form. An injury cut everything short and in April he returned to the Toffees.
Now, in an interview with Gary Neville on ‘The Overlap’, Dele has acknowledged the problems he has had recently and has been honest about his terrible childhood.
Dele admitted to overusing sleeping pills, and referred to other vices, until one day he knew he was not on the right track and asked for help in a rehabilitation center. It was a heartbreaking testimony of a footballer who is trying to get back to the way he was.
“I’m afraid to talk about it. When I came back from Turkey and found out I needed an operation, I was very bad mentally and decided to go to a mental health rehabilitation center. They treat addictions and trauma. I felt it was time. You can’t be told to go, you have to know and make the decision yourself or it won’t work,” Dele explained to Neville.
A life full of trauma
“When I was six years old, I was molested sexually by a friend of my mother’s, who was around the house a lot,” Dele said, bringing Neville to tears. “My mom was an alcoholic. I was sent to Africa to learn discipline and then sent back.
“At seven, I started smoking; at eight, I started dealing drugs. An older person told me they wouldn’t stop a kid on a bicycle, so I rode around with my football, and then underneath I was carrying drugs.
“At 11, I was hung from a bridge. It was a guy from the neighborhood next door, a man.
“At 12, I was adopted. An amazing family, I couldn’t have asked for better people to do what they did for me. If God created people, it would be them.”
Hanging up his boots
The Everton player, still only 27, also acknowledged in the interview that he was close to retiring some time ago.
“One morning I woke up and had to go to training. I remember looking in the mirror and wondering if I could retire now. I was 24 years old. Doing what I love. It was heartbreaking for me,” Dele said.
One of the most important people in Dele‘s career has been Mauricio Pochettino. Under the coach, he shone at Tottenham. Now the Argentine, who knows that his former pupil is not having a good time, is worried about him.
“I hope to have time to call him and see how he is. Dele is a great guy. I want to talk to him to find out what’s going on. He’s still young so maybe his mentality can change. I’m sure he will come back,” said the now-Chelsea boss.
Dele, meanwhile, has only good words for Mauricio.
“Pochettino was the best manager and I couldn’t have asked for a better manager at the time. It wasn’t like a relationship between a footballer and a coach. It was deeper than that, I felt. He was so understanding with the decisions I was making and he was guiding me, like he cared about me as a person before soccer,” said the footballer.
As soon as the interview was aired, Dele received many expressions of support for his bravery in going public with such private aspects of his life. One of them was Harry Kane, his former Tottenham teammate, who wrote on his social networks: “Proud of Dele Allifor speaking out and sharing his experience to try to help others”.
Neville himself, the interviewer, also publicly acknowledged that he had been impacted, that he had been left with an impression by the chat with Dele.
“It’s the most emotional, difficult, but inspiring conversation I’ve ever had in my life,” Neville wrote on his Twitter account.