Dele speaks out on childhood abuse

In an interview with Gary Neville for The Overlap, Dele has revealed that he was sexually abused when he was just six years old – and had been recruited as a drug dealer by the time he turned eight. The 43-minute interview delved into the poor nature of Dele’s mental health, as the midfielder gave a candid account of his career’s gradual decline over the years.

Six weeks in rehab

Dele admitted at the start of the interview that he has recently returned from a six-week stay at a mental health rehabilitation facility, adding that, “I went there for six weeks and Everton were amazing about it, you know. They supported me 100% and I’ll be grateful to them forever. I think, whatever happens in the future, for them to be so open and honest and understanding, I think I couldn’t have asked for anything more in that time when I was probably making the biggest decision of my life – something I was scared to do.

“So, I got out [of rehab] three weeks ago, I think, and if I’m being honest, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to talk about it this soon. I think maybe give it a bit more time, but I am feeling in a really good place, and I feel strong enough to do this – I think that’s important.

“My rehab was in America. I spent six weeks in America and I met some amazing people there, I think from all different walks of life, different professions, to be able to do that. And it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from, what your trauma is. I think trauma is trauma and your body registers it in the same way, no matter what it is. Even if you think you’re fine, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Going and speaking to someone and opening up will help you realise that.”

Childhood abuse, drug dealing and adoption

Dele’s mental health was impacted at a young age, as he adds that his mum’s friend molested him – seemingly kickstarting his tumultuous childhood. “At six, I was molested by my mum’s friend. 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.”

His life took a positive turn a year later though, as adoption offered him a fresh start in a loving family. “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 to get rid of me again. I tried to be the best kid I could be for them.”

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Fighting addiction

Dele – who prefers his surname not to be used – acknowledges that he took sleeping pills to deal with his trauma, rather than targeting the root of his problems. The player stated that, “I got addicted to sleeping tablets, and it’s probably a problem that you know, not only I have, I think it’s something that’s going around more than people realise in football.

“With our schedule, you have a game, you have to be up early in the morning to train, you’ve got all the adrenaline and stuff so sometimes, you know, to take a sleeping tablet and be ready for the next day is fine, but when you’re broken as I am, it can obviously have the reverse effect because it does work for the problems you want to deal with.

“That is the problem – it works until it doesn’t. So yeah, I definitely abused them too much, and don’t get me wrong, I’d stop sometimes and go a few months without them, but I was never really dealing with the problem you know, it got really bad at some points and I didn’t understand how bad it was, but I was never dealing with the route of the problem, which was when I was growing up and the traumas I had, the feelings I was holding onto and I tried to deal with it all by myself. I didn’t want to tell anyone.”

He went on to say that his dependency impacted his relationship with his family.

“I lost myself for a few years, and you know, I was just turning everyone away, not accepting any help from anyone. I mean when I have the family that saved my life crying, asking me to tell them what’s wrong, I just didn’t want to do it.

“They had heard a few times about them [the sleeping tablets], but I’d swear on everything that I’d never taken them, which is part of the problem you know, I didn’t want help. I’d tell myself that I wasn’t an addict, I wasn’t addicted to them, but I definitely was.”

The highs and the lows of professional football

Though the 27-year-old is now an Everton player, he continues to recognise his former Spurs boss – and recently appointed Chelsea manager – Mauricio Pochettino as one of the most influential people in his life, both personally and on the pitch.

“Mauricio Pochettino was the best manager and I couldn’t have asked for a better manager at the time. I was in him and his team, you know, not just him. There was Jesus [Perez], Miguel [d’Agostino] and Tony [Jimenez]. They are amazing people and they’re so understanding, and it wasn’t like a footballer and a manager relationship. It was deeper than that, I felt. He was just so understanding of the decisions I was making, and he was guiding – like, he cared about me as a person before the football, which is what I needed at that time. And I think that’s important for young players.”

Dele admits that he contemplated retiring three years ago. “Probably the saddest moment for me, was when [José] Mourinho was manager, I think I was 24. I remember there was one session, like one morning I woke up and I had to go to training – this is when he’d stopped playing me and I was in a bad place.

“I remember just looking in the mirror. I mean it sounds dramatic, but I was literally staring in the mirror, and I was asking if I could retire now, at 24, doing the thing I love. For me, that was heart-breaking to even have had that thought at 24, to want to retire. That hurt me a lot, that was another thing that I had to carry.

“He called me lazy – that was the day after recovery day. A week later, he apologised to me for calling me lazy because he’d seen me actually train and play. But that wasn’t in the documentary, and no one spoke up about that because it was only me and him.”

As the focus of the conversation turns to his current contract at Everton, Dele adds that he is keen to impress Sean Dyche and reignite his playing career in England. “Me and [Sean Dyche] have had some good conversations, not so much about football at this point because obviously I’m still injured, but about where I’m at. And I’d like to say a big thanks to him as well – I think for someone that didn’t really know me, for this to be thrown on him and to be so understanding and not even just understanding, we had a good conversation and, like I said, he was supportive.

“Right now, it’s just about getting back on the pitch and showing him what I can do, and the talks were more about what I’ve done in terms of the rehab and how I’m feeling, which is a normal question for people to have, I think. So yeah, a lot of the talks so far have been about that, and then, yeah, I just need to get back fit which isn’t too long away.

“I’m feeling good in that sense, probably another few weeks [away from returning from injury] and then get back playing and enjoying football which is what I want to do. So, I’m ready for a big season and I’m more prepared to deal with any challenge that comes with it.”

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Dele: “I hope my experiences inspire others”

Dele was keen to encourage others with mental health issues or trauma to seek the help they need.

“I want to reiterate the fact that people don’t need to fear change. I think change is always hard, when something’s uncomfortable and difficult, you get a feeling, you get scared, you get the fear. But when you have that feeling, that’s the exact time when you have to jump and go for it because at the other side of fear and change is usually only positives things. And hopefully, me talking about my experiences is helpful to them so.”

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