Dele Alli has confessed that he pondered retiring from professional football at the age of 24 after experiencing a number of mental health issues in recent years.
Alli broke onto the scene at MK Dons as a 16-year-old and swiftly became a household name at Tottenham, earning the PFA Young Player of the Year award twice.
The midfielder had a reputation as a once-in-a-generation talent, but his career took a turn for the worse after Mauricio Pochettino left Spurs as manager.
Jose Mourinho took over as Tottenham manager in 2019, but the Portuguese struggled to get the most out of Alli.
Since transferring from Tottenham to Everton in 2022, Alli has failed to regain the form he displayed in the early parts of his career, and he has now revealed why.
“It’s hard to pinpoint one exact moment,” said Alli, when asked by Gary Neville on The Overlap when things didn’t feel right.
“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 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 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.”
I’m struggling to find the words to put with this post but please watch my most recent interview with Dele. It’s the most emotional, difficult yet inspirational conversation I’ve ever had in my life. Watch the interview on @wearetheoverlap here https://t.co/60d4IZwQmR pic.twitter.com/0cZowJGW77
— Gary Neville (@GNev2) July 13, 2023
The 27-year-old also stated that he went to rehab to deal with his sleeping medication addiction and mental health issues.
“I got addicted to sleeping tablets and it’s probably a problem that not only I have. I think it’s something that it’s going around more than people realise in football,” Alli said.
“Hopefully me coming out and speaking about it can help people. Don’t get me wrong, they work. I think with our schedule, you have a game, you have to be up early to train, the adrenaline and stuff.
“To take a sleeping tablet to sleep and be ready is fine but when your dopamine system is broken as I am, it can obviously have the reverse effect because it does work for the problems you want to deal with and that’s the problem. It works until it doesn’t.”
Alli went on to describe a horrible childhood upbringing that was turned around when he was adopted by a “amazing” family.
The 27-year-old now wishes to assist others who are experiencing similar difficulties.
He said: “It’s been going on for a long time [my addiction], the things I was doing to numb the feelings I had. I didn’t realise it was for that purpose, whether it be drinking or whatever,” he said.
“There are things a lot of people do but if you abuse it and use it in the wrong way and you’re not actually doing it for the pleasure, you’re doing it to try and chase something or hide from something, it can obviously damage you a lot.”