A renowned footballer, Dele Alli has bravely disclosed that he endured sexual abuse at the tender age of six.
In an interview that was both candid and deeply emotional, the 27-year-old also unveiled his battle with addiction to sleeping tablets, shedding light on his six-week rehabilitation journey in the United States this past summer.
Alli, who last represented England in 2019, fell out of favor at Tottenham, leading to his transfer to Everton. However, he has encountered difficulties making an impact at his new club, spending the previous season on loan at Besiktas.
During an interview with Gary Neville on The Overlap, Alli shared how his troubled childhood contributed to the challenges he faced in recent years. He recounted several distressing incidents that shaped his early life, stating, “There were a few incidents that can give you a brief understanding.
At six, I was molested by my mum’s friend who was frequently at our house. My mum was an alcoholic.”
He continued, revealing more traumatic experiences, saying, “I was sent to Africa to learn discipline. Then I was sent back. At seven, I started smoking, and by eight, I began dealing and selling drugs.
An older person informed me that they wouldn’t suspect a child carrying drugs, so I would conceal them beneath my football. At eleven, a guy from the neighboring area hung me off a bridge. Thankfully, at the age of twelve, I was adopted by an incredible family who provided me with unparalleled love and support. If God created people, it was them. They are amazing and have helped me immensely.”
Alli also disclosed that he sought treatment for his addiction during the summer. He shed light on the prevalence of sleeping tablet addiction in football, stating, “I got addicted to sleeping tablets, and I believe it’s a problem that extends beyond just me. It’s more widespread in football than people realize.”
The English international, who spent the previous season on loan at Besiktas, further explained, “Now is probably the right time to share this. It’s tough to discuss it since it’s relatively recent and something I’ve concealed for a long time.
“When I returned from Turkey, I discovered that I needed an operation. Mentally, I was in a bad place. I made the decision to attend a modern rehab facility that specializes in addiction, mental health, and trauma. I felt it was the right time for me. No one can force you to go there; you have to make that decision for yourself.”
Alli highlighted the unwavering support he received from Everton during this challenging period. He expressed his gratitude, saying, “Everton were amazing and stood by me. I will be forever grateful to them. Their honesty and understanding meant the world to me, especially when I was making one of the biggest decisions of my life – something I was afraid to do. I’m glad I did it.”
In discussing his addiction to sleeping tablets, Alli acknowledged, “Before, when I tried to quit, I would occasionally experience the urge, but I managed to stay sober for a period of time.
“However, there would always come a moment when something happened, triggering those feelings and making me want to escape. I was consuming a significant amount—I don’t want to go into specifics, but it was undoubtedly excessive.”
He continued, shedding light on his usage patterns, “The teams provide you with sleeping tablets for a reason – to help you sleep. But I wasn’t taking them solely for sleep; I would consume them throughout the day, starting as early as 11 a.m. on my days off, just to escape from reality.”
Alli reflected on the origins of his addiction, stating, “It began with a doctor prescribing them to me, and it evolved from there. When you desire something, you’ll find a way. Initially, it was one tablet to aid sleep, which is usually fine for most people. But for me, it became a means of fixing something else within me that I didn’t know could be fixed.”
The footballer also delved into the mental toll that football can exact, recounting a poignant moment when he contemplated retiring at the age of 24. He shared, “Don’t get me wrong, I love football. It’s saved my life. I owe everything to football. But it’s not as easy as everyone thinks. Yes, it brings wealth and the ability to do things you otherwise couldn’t, but mentally, unless you’re in it, you won’t truly grasp what it can do to you.”
Alli revealed, “Probably the saddest moment for me was during Jose Mourinho’s tenure as the Tottenham manager. I was 24 at the time, and there was one session – after he had stopped playing me – where I found myself in a dark place. I vividly remember looking into the mirror. It may sound dramatic, but I stood there, staring into the mirror, contemplating whether I could retire at 24 while pursuing the very thing I love.”
Following the release of the interview, Everton issued a statement applauding Alli’s bravery and requesting respect for his privacy. An Everton spokesperson stated, “The club has provided support to Dele in his return to fitness and in overcoming the personal challenges he shared in his interview with The Overlap.
“Everyone at Everton respects and commends Dele for his courage in discussing the difficulties he has faced and seeking the necessary help. The physical and mental well-being of all our players is of utmost importance, and the club takes its responsibility in protecting the confidentiality of players and staff very seriously.”
The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) also expressed support for Alli. In a statement on Twitter, the PFA said, “It’s incredibly brave of Dele to share his story with such honesty in this important interview with @gnev2. Hearing Dele speak so openly will make a difference, and his desire to use his own experiences as an inspiration to others, both inside and outside of football, is something he should be extremely proud of.”
FIFA president Gianni Infantino released a statement on his Instagram story, stating, “I was deeply moved to learn of Dele’s painful experiences as a child and young footballer. FIFA emphasizes the immense importance of safeguarding the emotional and mental well-being of players at all levels and recognizing the symptoms of mental health problems. If you or someone close to you is struggling, #ReachOut.”
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