February 22, 2024

NORWICH, ENGLAND - APRIL 10: Sean Dyche, Manager of Burnley inspects the pitch prior to the Premier League match between Norwich City and Burnley at Carrow Road on April 10, 2022 in Norwich, England. (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)

 

Everton midfielder Dele Alli has revealed that he had checked himself into rehab in a bid to battle his addiction to sleeping tablets.

In an emotional interview talking to Gary Neville on The Overlap in partnership with Sky Bet, the 27-year-old has spoken openly about his difficulties in recent years as well as the harrowing upbringing he endured before he was a teenager.

 

Alli claims that he was molested by one his ‘mum’s friends’ at the age of six, started smoking at seven and was dealing drugs at eight in a tell-all interview.

 

Prior to Thursday’s airing, Mail Sport’s IAN LADYMAN had taken a look at the England international’s career in April and how it had gone downhill – transpiring in a notable hippy crack shame incident earlier that month.

 

In Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, Sir Alex Ferguson sat with a group of coaches the night before Manchester United played Real Madrid in the 2017 UEFA Super Cup.

 

Ferguson was no longer manager of his club but that doesn’t mean he didn’t feel the pang of lost opportunities. ‘I don’t know how we missed the boy Alli,’ he mused. ‘He was right there in front of us. What a mistake.’

 

Ferguson was talking of the night in August 2014 when Dele Alli, then 18, played in an MK Dons team that beat Louis van Gaal’s United 4-0 in the League Cup.

 

Three years on and Alli was an established Tottenham player, an England international and a two-time PFA Young Player of the Year. He was still only 21 but he was already on his way to being a superstar. No wonder Ferguson felt rueful.

 

But Tottenham, and in particular their scout and former manager David Pleat, had been in to the Alli phenomenon for years. Even if United had been quick out of the blocks after that 4-0 hammering, they would have been too late.

 

 

Tottenham knew Alli had marked his first senior appearance for MK Dons with a first-touch backheel against Cambridge City in the FA Cup first round in November 2012. They knew about the 30-yard goal he scored in the replay. They knew all there was to know about this talented but occasionally wayward kid from a council estate broken home in Buckinghamshire.

 

‘I did six reports on him but only really needed one,’ Pleat told Mail Sport this week. ‘In my first one I wrote that he was 16 but appeared older. He had all the credentials, an absolute natural.’

 

Alli turned 27 on Tuesday. Part of his birthday celebrations appear to have involved a flat in Salford, a balloon, some laughing gas and a very expensive bottle of tequila.

 

In a photograph on social media, Alli is wearing a vest and baseball cap and looks anything but the feted athlete he once was. And that’s largely because he isn’t.

 

Alli — once labelled the future of English football by his favourite Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino — had not been a meaningful influence for more than two years when he left the club for Everton in January 2022.

 

On Merseyside, a team-mate described him privately as ‘a nice lad who looks totally lost’. Alli started one game at Everton before being loaned out to Turkish side Besiktas in Istanbul last August.

 

Alli has been a failure there, too, and is now back in the North West waiting to discover if he needs surgery on a hip problem.

 

Everton are locked in a relegation battle and have not publicly declared their intentions regarding a fringe player who has another year left on his contract. But what is known is that they will owe Tottenham £10million once Alli plays 20 times for them. Tottenham are not expecting to ever see that money.

 

In Turkey, they have been moving the Dele Alli shirts to the back of the Besiktas club shop. They say that, after an initial surge of excitement, there was never much demand anyway.

 

Alli arrived to popping flash bulbs but after scoring in his second game managed only one more in 12 subsequent matches. He has not played since February with head coach Senol Gunes describing him as ‘below expectations in terms of efficiency’.

 

Where Alli is concerned, it has become a familiar tale and Besiktas, it can be revealed, had been warned.

 

‘Besiktas want famous names,’ former club director Ibrahim Altinsay told Mail Sport. ‘They say, “Bring the jets” because these players always come in private planes. And Dele Alli did.

 

‘But I still speak to Besiktas as an advisor and said I knew Dele from Tottenham. My conclusion was he was very talented but I had reservations about his mentality. That is what I was being told. I told them he wanted to live his life his way and that he had people around him.

 

‘But they took him and for Besiktas it was a lost cause very quickly. He is a talent but it takes more than that.

 

‘I compare him to Wout Weghorst who left Besiktas for Manchester United. He has none of Dele’s ability but he has so much desire and commitment. Dele? I just didn’t see that fight and I think he has lost it. It’s really sad.’

 

Alli once had that fight. Once, he had all the fight he could ever need. But there are those who saw it disappear before their very eyes.

 

‘When he arrived at Tottenham he was a rough diamond, a street kid with something to prove,’ a Spurs source told Mail Sport. ‘He wanted to show all those big superstar pros he was as good as them. And he did.

 

‘But then he woke up one day and realised he was one of them. And then it changed.’

 

 

Alli’s early impressions for Tottenham and for England were startling. He scored more goals in his first 50 Premier League games than Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. His stats at 21 were better than Cristiano Ronaldo’s.

 

He made his first start for England against France aged 19 and scored from 25 yards. Two-and-a-half years later, he scored in England’s World Cup quarter-final win against Sweden in Russia.

 

Pochettino loved him. During a 2-0 win over Arsenal in 2017, the Spurs manager turned to his assistant Jesus Perez and smiled: ‘Just let Dele do what he wants’.

 

Underneath it all, though, Pochettino had always been concerned. Much has been made of a scene in the Amazon documentary All or Nothing in which Pochettino’s successor Jose Mourinho sits with Alli and warns him he needs to give more and that his career is in danger of slipping away.

 

What is less known is that Pochettino had a similar conversation with the player within a fortnight of him joining for £5m from MK Dons and several times subsequently.

 

‘The danger is he will forget what got him to this point,’ Pochettino wrote in his book Brave New World. Both managers recognised the same flaw in Alli. Both did what they could. Mourinho even went to his house. But both also noticed how bemused and almost baffled he seemed by the criticism.

 

That chimes with our Tottenham source, who said: ‘I love Dele but he won’t listen, not to anybody outside his circle. He is on his own journey.’

 

Some pin the start of Alli’s fall to a new contract he signed at the end of 2018. It was for six years and for north of £100,000 per week. If he were still at Tottenham, it would still have a year to run.

 

It often feels too easy pin a footballer’s decline in form and application to money and status but in Alli’s case it is said so often and by so many people. There is talk of an over-fondness of late night video games.

 

An Everton player said privately a year ago: ‘It’s weird but he doesn’t always seem with it, almost a bit dozy’.

 

In Turkey, TV reporter and Besiktas specialist Safak Malatya said: ‘Dele just seemed to be mentally absent on the field. He wanted it, he was trying, but it was like someone was forcing him to play but he had forgotten how.’

 

It is this drop in motivation and application that people keep coming back to. They saw it at Tottenham, where Pochettino had almost given up by the time he left, and certainly at Besiktas.

 

‘He was not a problem for the coach but I don’t say that as a positive thing,’ said Altinsay. ‘When he wasn’t picked he seemed OK about it, quite relaxed. That’s not normal.’

 

Delve deeper and some people will talk about a change in Alli’s playing position at Tottenham. He was undoubtedly at his best playing high up the field with Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen as Spurs threatened to win the Premier League in 2016.

 

A subsequent move in to midfield did not help him. But he has been played all over the field by a succession of coaches trying to relight the spark. Nothing has worked.

 

Meanwhile, another subject that also comes up quite often is the role of a friend called Harry Hickford.

It is impossible to look at the way Dele Alli’s life has played out without considering how it started.

 

With an absent father and alcoholic mother, Alli was on the radar of the police. His three closest school friends subsequently spent time in prison and Alli might have as well, had it not been for Sally and Allan Hickford of the more affluent nearby borough of Cosgrove.

 

Alli met their son Harry at a football tournament aged nine. ‘It was love at first sight,’ Alli subsequently joked.

 

Later to be team-mates at MK Dons, the two boys were living together at the Hickford family home by the time Alli was 13. Alli refers to Hickford as his brother and Sally and Allan have long since been his de facto parents.

 

‘Dele walked round like a cockerel but he wasn’t,’ Sally told the Phenoms documentary fondly in 2018. ‘He was just a normal little boy. He felt safe with us. People thought he would turn Harry in to a naughty boy but he did not.’

 

Alli’s unconventional upbringing is why he wears ‘Dele’ on the back of his shirt rather than his own family name. ‘I lived two lives when I was a kid,’ he told Phenoms. ‘Harry was this posh country boy and with him I would behave. Then I would go home to my mum and get in to trouble with the police.’

 

Alli’s relationship with the Hickfords endures to the extent that for six years Harry has been his agent. Hickford Jnr now works for the CAA/BASE agency but Alli is by far his most recognisable client.

 

 

The two men have lived together at Alli’s mansion in Hertfordshire at times. Alli swears by the relationship but others do not.

 

‘Dele was with Rob Segal when he came to Tottenham and that worked for him as he was experienced,’ a Spurs source told Mail Sport.

 

‘Harry is a lovely lad from a great family but absolutely not equipped to handle a superstar footballer. You don’t learn on the job with Dele Alli.’

 

Nobody doubts the positive influence of the Hickfords on Alli’s life. But there is a belief that when he has needed someone to advise him to reign in his more immature excesses, his current agent has not managed it.

 

Chat at Everton is of a group of hangers-on (not Hickford) who ‘were rinsing Alli every single day of his life’, and even at Spurs there was talk of too many late nights and secret runs to McDonald’s.

 

Back then Alli was still at the front in Pochettino’s running drills. His natural fitness was always high. There was almost a move to PSG, and there is a rumour that the Hickford family were given a tour of Real Madrid’s training ground.

 

But that was then and this is now. The Hickfords were there with Alli on the jet to Istanbul last August, taking pictures on the pitch on the day their ‘son’ started his latest chapter. They will always be there for him but whether football will is another matter. His reputation now goes before him.

 

At Spurs, Mourinho noted speculation that Pochettino was in contenton for the job at United. ‘Maybe he will take Alli,’ the Portuguese messaged to a friend. ‘He is not a fit for my team.’ Last season, a source advised David Moyes at West Ham to take a chance on Alli. Moyes never called back.

 

In Istanbul, they don’t speak badly of Alli. This week’s social media snap from Salford may paint a hedonistic picture but in Turkey there was no evidence of that. Local media noted the occasional presence of Alli’s celebrity girlfriend Cindy Kimberly and his fondness for unconventional clothes and painted nails, but there was no backlash once his performances on the field failed.

 

‘There is no sadness about his departure,’ added Malatya.

 

In England — particularly at Tottenham — they remember a different Alli. They remember a young lad who tried to learn Spanish in order to talk with Pochettino and who recorded a video message for his manager’s 50th birthday. ‘It was really moving,’ said a source.

 

They remember a young man who would pay for team dinners and organise the dressing-room music. But above all they remember the talent.

 

Pochettino likened Alli to the great Brazilian Ronaldinho once yet had given up on him by the end. Others have not.

 

‘Yes, I think of Dele,’ Pleat recalled this week. ‘There is so much talent in there but I don’t know what has happened. I cannot think of something that makes me sadder in football.’

muller : if dele retire early barca will pay for it .

Wishing you all the best in your next journey Dele, just by watching your interview makes me tear up, you never know what someone is going through until you’re told.

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