Dele Alli spent last season on loan at Turkish side Besiktas

Warning: Contains distressing details of sexual abuse and child cruelty.

Everton midfielder Dele Alli says he was sexually abused when he was six years old.

In an emotional interview with former England footballer Gary Neville, Alli revealed the abuse he suffered as a child before he was adopted aged 12.

He said he was “molested” aged six, started smoking aged seven and was dealing drugs at eight years old.

Alli, 27, recently spent six weeks in rehab because of a sleeping pill addiction and mental health issues.

One of football’s brightest young talents, Alli was part of the England squad that reached the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup and helped Tottenham reach the Champions League final in 2019.

However, his form dipped and he left Spurs to join Everton in February 2022 before going on a loan spell to Turkish side Besiktas last season.

Alli, who earned the last of his 37 England caps in 2019, returned to Everton at the end of last season because of injury.

“When I came back from Turkey, I found out I needed an operation and I was in a bad place mentally,” he told The Overlap.external-link

“I decided to go to a modern-day rehab facility for mental health. They deal with addiction, mental health and trauma.

“I felt like it was time for me. With things like that, you can’t be told to go there. You have to know and make the decision yourself or it’s not going to work. I was caught in a bad cycle. I was relying on things that were doing me harm.

“I was waking up every day and I was winning the fight going into training, smiling, showing that I was happy but inside I was definitely losing the battle. It was time for me to change it.”

Alli said he had come out of rehab in the United States three weeks ago and “could never have imagined how much” he would get from it as “a lot happened when I was younger that I could never understand and figure out” and it had helped him on that front.

He later paused as he became emotional when about talking about being “molested” at six before speaking about being “sent to Africa to learn discipline”.

“At seven, I started smoking, eight I started dealing drugs,” he added.

“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, 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.”

Alli made his senior football debut aged 16 for MK Dons in 2012 and impressed as the then-League One side beat Manchester United in the League Cup two years later.

He joined Tottenham in February 2015 and he excelled both for club and country before he fell out of favour for both.

“It’s been going on for a long time without me realising it,” said Alli. “Things I was doing to numb the feelings I had: I didn’t realise I was doing it for that purpose, whether it be drinking or whatever.

“It started with that and then I got addicted to sleeping tablets. It’s probably a problem that not only I have but it’s something going around more than people realise in football. Maybe me coming out and speaking about it can help people.

“I definitely abused them too much. Don’t get me wrong, I would stop sometimes and go a few months without them but I was never really dealing with the problem.

“It got really bad at some points and I didn’t understand how bad it was but I was never dealing with the root of the problem, which was – when I was growing up – the traumas I had and the feelings I was holding on to.

“I was taking a lot. I don’t want to get into numbers but it was definitely way too much and I had some scary moments.”

Alli’s best form at Spurs came under the club’s former manager Mauricio Pochettino, who was replaced by Jose Mourinho in November 2019.

“Probably the saddest moment for me, was when 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 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 heartbreaking 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.”

More to follow.

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