Dele Alli opened up in a harrowing interview with Gary Neville about his abuse
Dele Alli‘s potential to become one of England’s next great footballers was spotted at an early age, with the prodigious young star being touted as a generational talent.
But behind the scenes, the future Premier League ace was battling with his own demons, having suffered a traumatic childhood that plagued him growing up.
The son of a Nigerian prince, he found himself ‘hanging out with the wrong crowd’ as a boy, dealing drugs from the age of eight and roaming the streets until 2 am.
In a harrowing interview with England star Gary Neville, Dele bravely opened up further and admitted he had been molested when he was six by one of his alcoholic mother’s friends – and that as an adult he had become addicted to sleeping tablets.
Despite these early struggles, Dele took the Premier League by storm to become one of the most highly-valued midfielders in the world within a few short years.
But as meteoric as his footballing rise to superstardom has been, his fall has been almost as breath-taking. As suddenly as he burst onto the scene at Tottenham in 2015-16, he swiftly and inexplicably fell from grace.
Born Bamidele Jermaine Alli, his mother, Denise and his father, Kehinde, split when he was three years old. He was born to an alcoholic mother who had four children with four different partners, and Denise has previously described his upbringing as ‘rough’.
READ MORE: Dele Alli reveals he was sexually abused aged six: Tearful football star describes trauma at being molested by a friend of his alcoholic mother – and lays bare how he recently went to rehab after becoming addicted to sleeping pills
Dele himself has admitted he fell in with ‘the wrong crowd’ when he was growing up as a youth in Milton Keynes.
‘I got into trouble a few times when I was younger. I hung around with the wrong people,’ he told The Sun in 2017.
‘With the older boys, I tried to do what they did. We weren’t in a very good area.
‘Football gave me the opportunity to actually put my energy into something else than hanging out on the street at 12 years old until 2am.’
Speaking later to MailOnline, Dele confessed: ‘Football was a great distraction from the path I was heading down.
‘I’m very lucky to have met people who helped me through the hardest of times and have helped me grow into the person I am today.’
Now, in his most emotional-charged interviews to date, Dele described to Gary Neville in harrowing detail just how torrid his childhood with his birth family had been before he was adopted at the age of 12.
‘When I was six I was molested by mum’s friend… because my mum was an alcoholic,’ he said in the one-to-one with Neville on The Overlap, ‘That happened at six.’
He continued: ‘And then I was sent to Africa to learn discipline and then I was sent back. At seven I started smoking and then at eight, I started selling drugs.
In recent years, the midfielder’s career has been marred by controversy on and off the pitch, having been pictured at drunken beach bashes and punished for punching a rival during a match.
‘An older person told me they wouldn’t stop a kid on a bike so I’d ride around with my football and underneath I’d have drugs.
‘At 11 I was hung off a bridge… by a guy from the next estate. A man. By 12 I was adopted but from then it was like I was adopted by an amazing family.’
Dele was born a year after his parents Denise and Kehinde met in a nightclub.
At the time Kehinde, originally from Nigeria, was studying for a Masters at De Montfort University before he launched into his whirlwind romance with Denise – which ultimately ended three years after Dele was born.
Dele – a prince of Nigeria’s Yoruba tribe through birth – spent time living with his millionaire father in Nigeria, in a 10-room mansion attending a private school and waited on by three maids, before returning to his mum aged 11 after his father remarried and moved to Houston, Texas.
His prodigious football talent was quickly spotted and he began training with MK Dons five days a week, and moved in with team-mate Harry Hickford’s family.
They never formally adopted Dele, but he spent his formative teenage years with the Hickfords, who would later travel to Russia in support of the player at the 2018 World Cup.
Denise has claimed that allowing Dele to do so was born out of convenience, as it allowed him to get to training with greater ease. It has also been reported that she struggled with alcoholism.
He has since chosen to drop his surname from his shirts as he says he feels no connection with the Alli family name.
She told MailOnline in 2018 that she had not spoken to her son since 2015, when the pair briefly reconciled, and that both her and her ex-husband had been desperate for contact with Dele, although the player was unwilling at the time.
Speaking earlier to the Mirror about her estrangement from her son, Denise told the Mirror: ‘I’m a very miserable person because I get so sad that Dele is missing out on his family and we’re missing out on him.
‘I want to be able to hug him and let him know we all love him to bits.
‘I’m not interested in his money, I’d love him the same if he worked in McDonald’s. We just want our son back.’
Dele spent his youth career at League One outfit MK Dons, working his way into the first team in July 2013 aged 17, before drawing the attention of teams much higher up the pyramid.
At 19, and after just a season and a half in the third tier, he was proving himself a cut above the rest as he scored 16 and made nine assists. He was comfortably MK Dons’ best player on the way to Championship promotion.
But it wasn’t in the second-tier that his immediate future lay, and Tottenham snapped up the teenager for an initial £5million to bring him to the Premier League in February 2015, loaning him back for the rest of the season.
Rather than look a fish out of water, this unknown youngster turned up in the greatest division in the world and came a whisker away from reaching double digits for both goals and assists (10 and nine).
The 2015-16 season saw Dele flourish, snatching his opportunity with two hands and earning himself a first England call-up, as well as the coveted PFA Young Player of the Season award, but there began to arise glimpses of the disciplinary issues that would later emerge.
During a game against West Brom in April 2016, he punched Baggies midfielder Claudio Yacob in the stomach in an off-the-ball incident.
It was not flagged during the game, but he was retrospectively handed a ban that effectively ended his season with three games to go, while also highlighting that although his skill on the ball was undeniable, he still had plenty of growing to do as far as his temperament was concerned.
At the end of the campaign, this impressive, fearless youngster made another statement, dropping the surname Alli from his shirt. The player has said he felt no affinity with the name.
The next two seasons at Spurs saw Dele continue to flourish both domestically and internationally, in an exponential rise to prominence in the English game, with another 36 goals and 30 assists in 100 games for Tottenham – as well as a second successive PFA Young Player of the Season award.
By his 21st birthday, he had amassed more goals and assists than each of Cristiano Ronaldo, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, and David Beckham had at the same age in the top flight.
If ever an indicator of his potential were needed, then this was surely it.
And as his stock increased exponentially on the field, so it did off the field. In May 2018, the then-22-year-old released a 74-piece collection in partnership with Manchester-based fashion company Boohoo. Dele’s status was now rising beyond that of a talented youngster, and he was beginning to assert himself as a big name within the broader English cultural sphere.
By the time the 2018 World Cup came along, Dele was valued at £88million (€100m) according to player value aggregator Transfermarkt, and had become one of Gareth Southgate’s most trusted figures in a young Three Lions squad.
The Spurs star scored in England’s quarter-final win over Sweden and played every minute of their last-four clash with Croatia, but was unable to get England over the line as they suffered semi-final heartbreak.
Another season with Spurs began poorly, with the 22-year-old picking up the first of five injury issues that would hamper his campaign and plague his form.
Although Tottenham reached a first-ever Champions League final, it would be Dele’s worst season in the famous white shirt, and if disciplinary issues were being hinted at before, they were creeping more and more into the fore.
Dele began to gain a reputation for petulance and the darker arts of the game – Gary Lineker famously dubbed him ‘Divey Alli’ – and he finished a season punctuated with injuries on just five goals and three assists in the Premier League.
With things not going so well on the pitch, the demands of a rising profile began to tell, with a row reportedly over upgrading to a £3,000-a-night penthouse with staff at London’s May Fair hotel grabbing the headlines in November 2018.
A bystander filmed the confrontation, with the star heard saying: ‘Fourteen grand. Think I’ll put up with any of this s**t?
‘What are you going to do for me? I’m just . . . but I’ve got a room here tonight.’
Reports at the time suggested that the player – and England colleague Ross Barkley who accompanied him in the five-star hotel – was inebriated at 5 am, which may have played some part in the outburst.
By the end of 2018-19, the now-23-year-old midfielder began to look tired, with the break bringing a much-needed rest for a player that had suffered repeated injuries in a long campaign, particularly to his hamstrings.
But rather than put an end to the brief downward trajectory an otherwise stellar rise to the top had thrown up, the new season would see Dele’s stock take its biggest hit so far – one that he still has not recovered from.
That summer he played for England once again, winning his 37th cap in a UEFA Nations League clash with Switzerland on June 9 2019. It remains his last appearance for his country.
His poor form continued for Tottenham – a change of manager briefly hinting at a return to supremacy for Dele after three goals and as many assists in Jose Mourinho’s first four games in charge, but it would not be sustained.
And once again, his slump on the pitch was matched by repeated issues in his personal life, as the star’s downfall began in earnest.
In February 2020, as the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic across the world began to accelerate, the star was caught in another high-profile incident, in which he posted a video appearing to mock a man of Asian descent, captioned: ‘Corona whatttttt, please listen with volume.’
The video saw Alli wearing a mask while appearing to feign concern. It also showed a bottle of handwash, accompanied by the caption: ‘This virus gunna have to be quicker than that to catch me.’
He would later apologise for the video, which he described as a ‘poorly-judged joke’, but was handed a huge £50,000 fine and a one-game suspension four months later.
Some issues Dele could have played no part in. He and his girlfriend Mae – from whom he briefly split in 2019 before reconciling – were robbed at knifepoint in his own home in May 2020.
The now-24-year-old Dele was thumped in the face in the traumatic burglary, as two males wearing balaclavas broke into the back of his north London property before threatening the Spurs star — who was at the time isolating with his adoptive-brother Harry, their two partners and a long-term friend.
The burglars plundered various items, including watches and jewellery, although the emotional and psychological damage to all involved is surely beyond any valuation.
The end of a disrupted and delayed 2019-20 season brought a close to what was ultimately another disappointing campaign for Dele personally, with eight goals and four assists, and although the player was now only 24 fears were beginning to arise that his downturn would not be arrested.
That summer, Dele furthered his reputation as something of a party boy as he was pictured with Jack Grealish basking in the Ibiza sun, drink in hand as he took a break from the unrelenting pressures of Premier League football – but things at Tottenham only worsened in the new season.
The 2020-21 campaign – his last full season with the club – saw him fail to score a single goal in the Premier League for the first time, making just 15 appearances.
He would also split with Mae for good in February 2021, with friends at the time blaming the footballer’s ‘good-time nature’ and his dedication to the video game Fortnite.
After the end of his turbulent long-term relationship, Dele was seen seemingly on dates with several women including Maria Guardiola, daughter of Manchester City boss Pep, and model Nicole Hall.
Despite desperately struggling for form, and falling down the pecking order at the club, he would survive Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo, before being sold on to Everton under Antonio Conte in early 2022 on a free transfer.
The club had run out of patience with a player that had promised so much, and ultimately delivered comparatively little. Between Pochettino’s exit and his own departure 26 months later, Alli managed just 75 games, 12 goals and 12 assists.
A move away from Tottenham was touted as a route back to the top, but the player started just once in a woefully forgettable spell at Goodison Park.
The relatively inexperienced hand of Frank Lampard was not one best suited to guiding him back to the peak of his powers, and he was quickly sent packing to Turkey and Besiktas.
But not after meeting Cindy Kimberley, famously Justin Bieber’s one-time crush in 2015, and ex-girlfriend of American rapper Tyga.
The 24-year-old, who has been dating the star since last summer, today told how proud she was of the midfielder after he made the shocking revelation about his traumatic childhood.
Lending her support over social media, she wrote: ‘Proud of you.’
During his heartbreaking interview with The Overlap, 27-year-old England star Dele also revealed he had found himself on a downward spiral after returning to from Turkey, excessively drinking and consuming sleeping pills.
He said his addiction had led to a spell in rehab facility.
Discussing his addiction, he said: ‘I got addicted to sleeping tablets, it’s a problem not only I have. It’s going around more than people realise in football.
‘Now is probably the right time to tell people. It’s tough to talk about it as it’s quite recent and something I’ve hid for a long time and I’m scared to talk about.
‘When I came back from Turkey (following a loan spell at Besiktas) I came back and found out I needed an operation.
‘I was in a bad place mentally. I decided to go to a modern rehab facility that deals with addiction and mental health and trauma. I felt it was time for me.
‘You can’t be told to go there, you have to make the decision yourself.
I was in a bad cycle. I was relying on things that were doing me harm. I was waking up every day, winning the fight going into training every day smiling – willing to show I was happy.
‘Inside I was losing the battle and it was time to change. When I was told I needed surgery I could feel the feelings I had when the cycle began.
‘So I went there for six weeks. Everton was amazing and supportive. I will be grateful to them forever. For them to be so honest and understanding I couldn’t ask for anything more during a time I was making the biggest decision of my life – doing something I was scared to do. I’m happy I’ve done it.’
The player also discussed ‘the stigma’ around rehabilitation facilities, saying: ‘Going into rehab is scary but I could never have imagined how much I would get from it.
‘I was in a bad place. A lot happened to me when I was younger that I couldn’t understand and I was doing stupid things that I blame myself for.
‘Going there and learning about it, it was never really under my control.
‘Understanding learning it has helped. I let go of some bad feelings I was holding which was slowing me down.’
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