Dele is no longer a Tottenham Hotspur player, but it’s abundantly clear that the past seven years has left an indelible impression on his heart. One day after he completed a permanent transfer to Everton on the last day of the transfer window, Dele posted a farewell video on his social media accounts of his best moments in a Tottenham shirt, and thanking the fans for all the support he received.
In a follow-up post, Dele wrote a message directly to Spurs fans, and gave a special shout out to former Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino, now the manager at PSG. Dele and Pochettino had a very special bond in those years — Dele was a young, precocious, and unproven professional footballer who had a tendency towards brashness and poor decision making. In many ways, Poch took Dele under his wing, giving him opportunities for his creativity and flair to shine through while pulling him back and allowing him to mature as a player and as a person. It raises the question — if Pochettino ever came back to Tottenham, might Dele as well?
In a lot of ways, this is a farewell that feels like one you would see for a player retirement, not a transfer to a different club. But that’s the effect that Dele had on Spurs fans who were around to see him when he first came through the club.
In the early years, Dele played with an joyousness that was infectious. He announced his arrival at the club by nutmegging Luka Modric in an Audi Cup preseason friendly against Real Madrid. His flicked volleyed goal against Crystal Palace will likely go down as one of the most memorable Tottenham goals of all time. He was the kind of player that, at his best, could pop up and create moments of magic out of virtually nothing — infuriating when he did little in matches up until that point, but exhilarating when those moments inevitably came.
And more than that, Dele let himself be known by Tottenham fans in a way that a lot of professional footballers don’t. He established bromances with Eric Dier and Son Heung-Min that were utterly delightful to watch. He played Fortnite online with random people. He was genuinely himself in interactions with fans and the media — not a polished, media-trained robot, but a person with real wants and likes and personality. He smiled, and laughed, and horsed around in training, but was always, indisputably present.
That’s why his departure to Everton is causing such emotional responses from fans today. Dele was special not just because of what he brought to the pitch but what he allowed us to see in himself — a kid from a troubled background who was adopted by his best friends’ family and overcame everything to make it at the very highest levels of football.
Sure, things didn’t work out the way everyone expected in the end. His performances trailed off as he was asked to play in positions that were not his best, in systems that didn’t suit him, under managers that did not especially like him. He also, to be fair, just didn’t play good football in the chances he was given over the past two years. It feels like Dele might have started to fall out of love with football, or at least with Tottenham, after Pochettino’s departure and the near-disastrous tenures of Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo. Antonio Conte didn’t see him as the right cog in his machine, and that’s also fair. Dele needs a fresh start, and he’ll get one under Frank Lampard in Merseyside.
I wish him well, just as he wishes us well. He’ll always be one of my favorite Spurs players, and when Everton returns to the Tottenham Hotspur stadium on March 7, I look forward to the Spurs faithful giving him the proper farewell that he very, very much deserves.