Former England international Dele Alli opens up on sexual abuse and rehab in tearful Gary Neville interview
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Former Tottenham Hotspur and current Everton star Dele Alli has explained the emotional reasons behind his falling away from the sport in a tearful interview with Manchester United legend Gary Neville.
Neville hosts The Overlap podcast and explained that the midfielder's team had reached out to say that the time was right for Alli to open up on what had been happening behind the scenes.
The 27-year-old shared that he had left a stint in rehab three weeks ago and slammed tabloids for forcing him to come out and speak so soon in his recovery from an addiction to sleeping pills.
Alli 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. It's something that maybe me speaking about can help me.
"With our schedule, you have a game, you have to be up early to train, you've got all the adrenaline. Sometimes to take a sleeping tablet and be ready the next day is fine. But when you're as broken as I am, it can obviously have the reverse effect.
"I would stop sometimes and go a few months without them. I was never really dealing with the problem, it got really bad at some points. The root of the problem was when I was growing up, the traumas I had, the feelings I was holding on to. I tried to deal with it all myself, I wasn't telling anyone."
Alli, who made 269 appearances for Spurs and most recently spent a difficult loan spell at Besiktas, returned to the UK earlier this year in need of an operation following a serious injury. It was at that point Alli realised he was in a 'bad cycle' and 'losing the battle', so checked into rehab for six weeks.
During the interview, the player also reflected on his childhood and shared his experience with sexual abuse in a tearful moment.
Alli said: "[My childhood is] something I haven't really spoken about that much, to be honest. I mean, I think there were a few incidents that could give you kind of a brief understanding.
"So, at six, I was molested by my mum's friend, who was at the house a lot. My mum was an alcoholic, and that happened at six. I was sent to Africa to learn discipline, and then I was sent back. At seven, I started smoking, eight I started dealing drugs.
"An older person told me that they wouldn't stop a kid on a bike, so I rode around with my football, and then underneath I'd have the drugs, that was eight. Eleven, I was hung off a bridge by a guy from the next estate, a man.
"Twelve, I was adopted – and from then, it was like – I was adopted by an amazing family like I said, I couldn't have asked for better people to do what they'd done for me.
"If God created people, it was them. They were amazing, and they've helped me a lot, and that was another thing, you know – when I started living with them, it was hard for me to really open up to them, because I felt within myself, it was easy for them to get rid of me again.
"I tried to be the best kid I could be for them. I stayed with them from 12 and then started playing first-team, professionally, at 16. It all sort of took off from there."
After the interview was published on Thursday morning, Alli received a flood of support from football stars and former teammates. Football stars James Maddison, Ryan Sessegnon, Kyle Walker-Peters, George Baldock and Dominic Calvert-Lewin all commented messages of support on Alli's Instagram post sharing the interview.
Alli’s current club Everton have also released a statement after the tell-all interview, sharing their respect for the player and asking for privacy as his rehabilitation continues. The club said: "The Club has been supporting Dele in both his return to fitness and overcoming the personal challenges highlighted in his interview with The Overlap.
"Everyone at Everton respects and applauds Dele’s bravery to speak about the difficulties he has faced, as well as seek the help required.
"The physical and mental welfare of all our players is of paramount importance. The Club takes very seriously its responsibility in protecting the confidentiality of players and staff. Dele will not be conducting any further interviews in relation to his rehabilitation, and we ask that his privacy is respected while he continues his recuperation from injury and receives the full care and support needed for his physical and mental wellbeing."
If you've been affected by any of the issues raised by Dele Alli, mental health charity Mind has a list of helplines for those needing to seek help.