ele Alli has opened up on his mental health struggles and revealed he was sexually abused as a child.
In an emotional interview with Gary Neville on The Overlap podcast, the former Tottenham and England midfielder said he has just returned from six weeks in rehab to treat an addiction to sleeping pills as a result of childhood trauma.
Dele revealed he was molested by a friend of his biological mother as a six-year-old, started smoking at seven and selling drugs aged eight, and was sent to Africa to live with his biological father for six months to “learn discipline”.
He admitted wanting to retire at just 24 after losing his place in Jose Mourinho’s Spurs side but insisted he is now “mentally in the best place I’ve ever been” and has got his “passion back for football”.
The Everton player, 27, returned from rehab three weeks ago and said he had hoped speaking out would help other people battling similar demons.
“Now is probably the right time for me to tell people what’s been going on,” Dele told Neville. “I’m scared to talk about it, but I think it’s the right thing to do.
“I’m hoping [opening up like this] helps people. It will help me. I think it’s something I needed to explain and get off my chest.
“When I came back from [a loan spell in] Turkey, I found out that I need an operation, I was in a bad place mentally and I decided to go to a modern-day rehab facility. They deal with addiction, mental health, and trauma.
“You can’t be told to go there. You have to make the decision yourself, otherwise it’s not going to work.
“I was caught in a bad cycle. I was relying on things that were doing me harm. I was waking up every day and winning the fight, going into training, smiling, showing that I was happy. But inside, I was definitely losing the battle and it was time for me to change it.”
Dele continued: “[My troubles have] been going on for a long time, without me realising it – the things I was doing to numb the feelings I had.
“I didn’t realise I was doing it for that purpose, whether it be drinking or whatever. The things a lot of people do – but if you abuse it and you’re not actually doing it for the pleasure, you’re doing it to try and chase something or hide from something, it can obviously damage you a lot.
“So, it started with that and then I got addicted to sleeping tablets.”
Dele said he was initially prescribed the pills by a doctor but his consumption soon became “scary” and he was taking them throughout the day, sometimes from 11am, to “escape from reality”.
He hid his addition from his teammates, managers and even his adoptive family and brother, who he said could be reduced to tears at not being able to help him.
“Probably the saddest moment for me, was when [José] Mourinho was manager,” he said. “I remember there was one morning I had to go to training – this is when he’d stopped playing me – and I was in a bad place.
“I remember just looking in the mirror and I was asking if I could retire now, at 24, doing the thing I love. For me, that was heart-breaking to even have had that thought at 24, to want to retire. That hurt me a lot, that was another thing that I had to carry.”
Dele revealed his addiction was driven by a desire to block out a traumatic upbringing in Milton Keynes under an alcoholic mother.
“At six, I was molested by my mum’s friend, who was at the house a lot,” he said. “I was sent to Africa to learn discipline, and then I was sent back. At seven, I started smoking, eight I started dealing drugs. Eleven, I was hung off a bridge by a guy from the next estate, a man.”
He no longer has any contact with his biological mother or father, and in summer 2016 he opted to drop wearing his surname on his shirt.
Dele was adopted by “an amazing family” at 12, began playing first-team football for MK Dons at just 16 before joining Spurs in a £5million deal in summer 2015.
Under Mauricio Pochettino, he established himself as one of the most exciting young players in Europe, twice winning the PFA Young Player of the Year award, and going the 2018 World Cup with England.
He singled out the Argentine for particular praise, as well as his former teammates Harry Kane and Eric Dier.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better manager [than Pochettino] at the time,” he said. “It wasn’t like a footballer and a manager relationship. It was deeper than that, I felt. He was just so understanding of the decisions I was making, and he was guiding – he cared about me as a person before the football, which is what I needed at that time.”
Dele added: “You realise who are your real friends – people that don’t just say yes.
They mean a lot to you and they will always have a special place in my heart. So people like Eric [Dier], Harry [Kane], Sonny [Heung-min Son] Ben [Davies], there were a lot players that didn’t approve of what I was doing.
“If they knew about it, they weren’t afraid to tell me – especially Harry and Eric. Those two are brutally honest.”
Dele also thanked Everton and Toffees boss Sean Dyche for their support and hopes to repay them by returning to his best this season.
He has 12 months remaining on his contract and is a few weeks from fitness following hip surgery which curtailed a loan at Besiktas last term.
“I’ve got that passion back for football – I’m doing really well…I’m ready for a big season and I’m more prepared to deal with any challenge that comes with it,” he said.
- Dele Alli was speaking to Gary Neville on a special episode of The Overlap in partnership with Sky Bet.