Content warning — this story, and the video embedded at the top, contains frank discussion of physical and sexual abuse, addiction, and mental illness.
We all know parts of Dele’s story. As Tottenham Hotspur fans, of course we do — we were there to witness Dele’s meteoric rise from playing League One football with MKDons to becoming a global star under Mauricio Pochettino at the age of 19. He was, and for many fans still is, a beloved part of Tottenham’s extended family.
For those same reasons, as fans we also know the story of Dele’s so-called “fall from grace” — how his game trailed off after Pochettino’s departure, his gradual marginalization under Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, and his eventual departure to Everton where he continued to struggle under Frank Lampard. We all saw the talk with Mourinho in the “All or Nothing” documentary where Mourinho gave him some “tough love” and “home truths” about his perceived attitude. That seemed to set the stage for everything that followed afterwards.
But we don’t know the whole story. How could we? Today, Gary Neville released the latest episode of his interview video podcast The Overlap on YouTube. It’s an extended interview with Dele where Dele reveals the depths of the struggle he has gone through, not just over the past few years but his whole life. He reveals that he considered retiring from the game he loves and the only thing he feels he’s good at at the age of 24, and strongly criticized the producers of “All or Nothing” for the way in which the documentary was edited for narrative purposes.
It’s a heartbreaking talk, one which everyone should just take the time to watch. In it, Dele reveals that he is recently released from a rehabilitation facility where he has been dealing with addiction to sleeping medication and alcohol. He talks about his life-long struggles with mental illness and depression. And most harrowing, he talks about his childhood — how he was sexually abused at the age of six, was dealing drugs by seven, and hung from a bridge at the age of 11 before being adopted by the family of his best friend, who he credits for literally saving his life.
I don’t want to belabor this. As a writer my job is to communicate to people, and I find that right now after watching this video I do not have the words to express how I feel. I suspect many of you will feel the same way — either out of human compassion, or perhaps because you have experienced similar traumas or experiences in your life.
I suppose overall the thing I feel the most is sadness for everything Dele has gone through, and pride for him that he can share these most intimate and difficult moments with the world, because he wants to help others to not go through what he has. Addiction is real. Trauma is real. Suffering is real, and it’s all awful.
Just watch it. Take a few minutes out of your day and watch. Listen to him. Hear his story. That’s all.