Dele Alli spent six weeks in rehab in the United States in a bid to deal with mental-health problems stemming from a traumatic childhood and after getting addicted to sleeping pills.
Alli was one of English soccer’s biggest talents, a member of the England team that reached the World Cup semifinals in 2018 after a period when he was a star of Mauricio Pochettino’s young Tottenham side that nearly won the Premier League.
However, the attacking midfielder’s career has derailed in recent years and he chose to give an interview with former England defender Gary Neville to open up on the issues that have been affecting him.
Among them, Alli said in an episode of The Overlap released Thursday, was a reliance on sleeping pills which he said he was taking “just to escape from reality.”
“It’s been going on for a long time, without me realizing it, the things I was doing to numb the feelings I had. I didn’t realize I was doing it for that purpose, whether it be drinking or whatever,” he said.
“There are things a lot of people do but if you abuse it and use it in the wrong way 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. I got addicted to sleeping tablets and it’s probably a problem that not only I have. I think it’s something that’s going around more than people realize in football.”
Alli, who is currently under contract at Premier League team Everton, said he decided to check into a rehab facility for addiction, mental health and trauma after being told he needed surgery following his return from a loan spell at Turkish club Besiktas in April.
He returned from rehab three weeks ago.
“I was caught in a bad cycle. I was relying on things that were doing me harm,” he said. “I was waking up every day and was 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.
“I couldn’t,” he added of rehab, “have expected it to go the way it did. Before you hear about it, it has this whole stigma around it. It’s something people don’t want to do, go into rehab. It definitely sounds scary. I could never have imagined how much I would get from it and how much it would help me mentally, because I was in a bad place. A lot happened when I was younger that I could never understand.”
Alli, who is 27, said he was molested at the age of 6 by a friend of his biological mother, was then “sent to Africa to learn discipline,” and was dealing drugs at 8. He was adopted at the age of 12.
Alli thrived at Tottenham under Pochettino from 2015-19, saying the Argentine coach “cared about me as a person before the football,” but never had as good a relationship with other managers.
Alli said at the age of 24, when Jose Mourinho was Tottenham’s manager, he returned to a “bad place.”
“One morning I woke up,” he said, “and I had to go to training — this is when he’d stopped playing me — I was in a bad place and I remember just looking in the mirror … and was asking if I can retire now.
“At 24, doing the thing I love, for me that was heartbreaking.”
Alli has a year left on his deal at Everton and said he is “ready for a big season.”
“Mentally, I’m probably in the best place I’ve ever been,” he said.
Harry Kane, the England captain and a former teammate of Alli’s at Tottenham, tweeted that he was proud of Alli “for speaking out and sharing his experience to try and help others” while Everton said the club “respects and applauds Dele’s bravery to speak about the difficulties he has faced, as well as seek the help required.”