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Everton midfielder Dele Alli revealed he was a victim of sexual abuse and entered treatment for addiction that stemmed from his childhood trauma.
The 27-year-old spoke with Gary Neville for The Overlap and said he was molested when he was six by a family friend. His ordeals compounded from there.
“Seven, I started smoking; eight, I started dealing drugs,” he said (via the Guardian‘s Andy Hunter). “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, I was adopted by an amazing family, I couldn’t have asked for better people to do what they’d done for me. If God created people, it was them.”
As he got older, Alli told Neville he developed an addiction to sleeping pills and began drinking to “escape from the reality.”
“I was never really dealing with the problem which was growing and the traumas I had, the feelings I was holding on to; I tried to deal with it all by myself,” he said. “My adopted family, my brother, there were times they would take me aside crying, asking me to just speak to them about what I was feeling, but I couldn’t do it. I lost myself for a few years, I was just turning everyone away, when I had the family that saved my life crying, asking me to tell them what’s wrong, and I just didn’t want to do it.”
Alli was the PFA Young Player of the Year in 2015-16 and 2016-17, and he was only 20 when he made four appearances for the national team at Euro 2016. He appeared to be primed for superstardom, only to see his career stall out.
The former England international detailed how he contemplated retiring altogether when he was just 24 after he had fallen out of favor with Tottenham Hotspur manager José Mourinho. He said it was “heartbreaking” to even ponder walking away given how much he loves the game.
Alli explained to Neville he felt compelled to seek out professional help after he discovered he needed to undergo knee surgery, which brought his loan with Beşiktaş to an end.
“I was waking up every day, and I was winning the fight, going into training, smiling, showing that I was happy,” he said (via ESPN). “But inside, I was definitely losing the battle and it was time for me to change it because when I got injured and they told me I needed surgery, I could feel the feelings I had when the cycle begins and I didn’t want it to happen anymore.”
Alli was at a treatment facility in the United States for six weeks this summer to address his mental health. He told Neville he came forward in part to encourage others experiencing the same problems to get the help they need.
“I want to help other people to know that they’re not alone in the feelings they’ve got and that you can talk to people; it doesn’t make you weak to get help, to be vulnerable,” he said. “There’s a lot of strength in that. So, to come out and to share my story, I’m happy to do it.”