THE DELE ALI STORY AS ENDORSED BY DELE ALI AND HIS ADOPTIVE FATHER
This lunchtime, the creaking superstructure of the soon to be demolished White Hart Lane will be tested to the limit. The atmosphere at the most significant north London derby in a generation will broil with intensity, as the old rivals square up in a fixture that will have huge bearing on the destination of the title. At the heart of the home midfield will be the willowy figure of Dele Alli.
Uninhibited, effervescent, brimful of cheek, this is a player whose youthful zest has come to symbolise Tottenham’s title charge under Mauricio Pochettino. Still only 19 and a shoo-in for this season’s Young Footballer of the Year award, Alli has been turning heads all season, since the moment he marked his debut for Spurs in a friendly against Real Madrid by nutmegging Luka Modric. That, the Spurs faithful soon came to appreciate, was typical of Alli: this is a player who has always embraced the unexpected. Karl Robinson, manager of MK Dons, the club where he learned his trade, recalls a training session in which he had his players practising a new strategy for corners. He instructed Alli to make a near-post run with a view to flicking the ball on with his head. When the cross came in too low to be met with a header, the midfielder was not to be outdone; he simply volleyed it into the net with his heel.
He celebrated his strike by spitting out his chewing gum, juggling it from knee-to-knee, then foot-to-foot before kicking it up into the air, catching it in his mouth and smiling. At the time, he was just 16 years old.
Alli has flourished under Mauricio Pochettino’s high-energy tutelage
“I remember talking to Steve Heighway at the Liverpool Academy once and I said, ‘How good were you that you brought through the likes of Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Jamie Carragher, Steve McManaman’, ” Robinson recalls. “He just said, ‘I was lucky they were born in Liverpool’. Well, in MK we were blessed Dele was born in this vicinity.”
And one thing those who were involved in his development insist is that Alli will not be remotely intimated by the scale of the occasion at White Hart Lane. It will not concern the player who, last November, demonstrated his lack of nerves by scoring a sumptuous goal at Wembley to mark his first start for England. Because nothing does.
“The thing we have to think about with Dele is he’s quite unique,” says Mike Dove, the head of the Dons youth system. “He had a tough upbringing, challenging. And those formative years were important for his resilience. They made him fear-free. Nothing worries him. He’s not being arrogant, he’s just looking to get on the pitch and be entertaining.”
When it comes to describing his background, challenging is something of an understatement. He was brought up in the Bradwell area of Milton Keynes, which, with its modern brick housing stock is not an area that could be easily mistaken for a Rio favela. Alli’s home life, however, was particularly chaotic.
“Times were difficult, very tough,” his mother Denise revealed recently in a newspaper interview. “I had four children by four different dads but none of the relationships lasted. I was a single mum. We were living in a three-bedroom council house but it was a bit rough.”
His Nigerian father Kenny moved to the United States a week after Bamidele Jermaine Alli was born. So there was no paternal influence in the family home. Afflicted by alcohol issues, his mother left the young Dele to fend for himself. Often in trouble in the classroom, education was not something he pursued with vigour. From his earliest childhood, he preferred to spend his time engaged in unsupervised kickabouts. Which, as it turned out, was not without its benefits.
“There’s no secret that as a boy he was out on the streets a lot,” says Dove. “They talk about needing 10,000 hours of practice when young to become a top-class performer. And if you can get as many of those 10,000 self-taught, so much the better.
“He learned for himself, making mistakes and working out how to correct them. I’d watch him at our training ground and he was always trying tricks, like with his mates on the streets, the same little grin. That love of having the ball and wanting to do things with it came from those days.”
In an era when boys are being picked up by academies as young as five, Alli’s was a late arrival into the formal footballing system. He was not signed up by the Dons until he was 11. And from the moment Dove first saw him in action, he knew this was some player.
By modern football standards, Alli was a late developer
“When you look back you think, ‘Oh yeah, he was sensational’,” he recalls. “He looked a bit different to the others. He had some confidence in his football. He seemed to exude some form of self-belief. It was a sunny day in Norwich watching him play and I thought, ‘OK, this is going to be interesting’. ”
Naturally athletic, quick and strong, from a young age it was obvious the young Alli was blessed with all the physical attributes required for the game. He was soon breaking club records for sprint times and distances run.
More important, however, was his attitude. “At 11 he came to us into a safe environment where people would look out for him,” says Dove. “And what was fascinating about him was this constant challenge he set himself: what I do on the street, how can I get that to work in a game?”
That element of transferring street skills to the formal football structure has never left him. It was evidenced in a sumptuous volleyed goal at Crystal Palace this season, where he made space for the shot by flicking the ball over Mile Jedinak as though he were a bollard on the streets of Milton Keynes. And it is there in the fact that so far this season, he has carried out 14 nutmegs of opponents.
Nonetheless, there were issues about his upbringing that needed to be confronted in his footballing education. He could be fiery and short-tempered. Indeed, the Dons coaches were obliged to introduce a system of sin-binning ill-disciplined players specifically to corral his outbursts. But what everyone associated with his progress noted was his keenness to improve.
“We’ve had kids though like Sam and George Baldock from very supportive families, very focused on education,” says Dove. “Then we’ve had boys like Dele without a traditional support mechanism. What is the common trait of the excellent player – whether they have a traditional background or not – is that they share the passion, drive and mental desire to learn their craft, to want to progress.”
Alli shot to prominence when MK Dons beat Manchester United in the League Cup
When Alli was 13, his mother accepted that his increasingly disorderly domestic arrangements might compromise his chances of developing as a footballer. With the social services keeping an ever closer eye on the shambolic household, and with Alli spending ever more time out on the streets where the malevolent influence of teenage gangs was gathering, Denise agreed that it might be wise for her son to move in with the family of another Dons scholar in the more prosperous borough of Cosgrove. Although never formally adopted, he lived in the family home of Alan and Sally Hickford for the rest of his time in Milton Keynes.
“As coaches, you act as social workers, parents, psychologists, you need a real understanding of younger people,” says Dove. “And what I understood with Dele was it all had to be enjoyable. For him, football was fun. He would soon get bored if you were screaming and shouting instruction at him. Instead, we just let him express himself.”
With some stability injected into his home life and given room by the coaches, Alli’s development went into overdrive. By the time he was 16, he was playing for the Dons first team.
“There’s a bridge you have to help players get across that spans the youth team and first team football,” says Robinson. “For some of them, the bridge is huge, you know spanning Miami Island to South Beach. Dele’s was very small. With Dele, it was: there you go son, go and play.”
When his first touch in the first team was an extravagant back-heel, his first goal a screamer from 30 yards, it was no surprise when Tottenham paid £5 million for him in January 2015. Initially loaned back to his hometown club, this has been his breakthrough season, both in the Premier League and internationally. For the man who gave him his first-team debut, the rapidity of his rise has been expected.
“Every time a new challenge is put in front of him, he rolls up his sleeves a bit further and tries to be the best he can be,” says Robinson. “He’s not fazed. You have a go at Dele, he’s stone-faced. You praise Dele, he’s stone-faced. That’s how he takes his life. He strolls in and strolls out.”
And on Saturday lunchtime he will stroll into his biggest game yet, without any hint of fear.
HIS BIRTH PARENTS SIDE OF THE STORY:
Dele Alli’s estranged parents’ tearful plea for England star to let them back into his life
The heartbroken parents of England footballer Dele Alli today reveal their despair at having no part in the superstar’s life.
In an extraordinary interview, Dele’s mum Denise repeatedly breaks down as she tells how she now cries herself to sleep at night over the ordeal.
And his father Kehinde, a multi-millionaire businessman, tells how the only thing missing in his life is his first-born son.
Despite splitting when Dele was a child, his parents came together this week and spoke out in a desperate bid to repair their relationship with the £60,000-a-week Spurs midfielder.
As they opened up family albums to reveal happy photos of Dele’s childhood Kehinde, 47, told the Sunday Mirror: “I just do not understand what we have done wrong.
He refuses to speak to me and it feels like he’s been taken from us. But I won’t give up on getting him back.”
Dele’s mum Denise, 53, added: “I’m a very miserable person because I get so sad that Dele is missing out on his family and we’re missing out on him.
“I want to be able to hug him and let him know we all love him to bits.
“I’m not interested in his money, I’d love him the same if he worked in McDonald’s. We just want our son back.
”Dele, 20, is considered English football’s biggest rising star.
He won the prestigious PFA Young Player of the Year award at the end of last season and is now being linked with a mega-money move to Spanish giants Real Madrid.
But while his career has rocketed since leaving home-town club Milton Keynes Dons, his relationship with his parents has completely broken down.Neither has been able to see him since he signed for Tottenham in February 2015 – an estrangement which has not only broken their hearts but left them bewildered.
Recalling him leaving, Denise said: “He was in great spirits and said, ‘I love you mum’. I had no idea that would be the last time I would see him. It still leaves me shocked.”
Last August it emerged Dele would no longer wear Alli on the back of his shirt, as he said he felt “no connection” to the name.
Mum Denise denies claims she couldn’t look after Dele because she was an alcoholic
The young star – red-carded against Belgian side Gent in a Europa League tie on February 23 – has also changed his mobile number and moved home.
Both Kehinde and Denise have made a series of desperate attempts to see Dele at Tottenham games, at the training ground and even by joining stadium tours.
Dele was born in Milton Keynes, Bucks, in April 1996 just over a year after his parents first met in a nightclub.
At the time Kehinde, originally from Nigeria, was studying for a Masters at De Montfort University.
The midfielder moved to Spurs in 2015 and is now linked with a move to Real Madrid
He and Denise, then a full-time mum of two, married after a whirlwind romance. They broke up three years after Dele was born. In 2000 Kehinde moved to Canada for work, returning to the UK regularly.
Despite the distance the couple stayed close, with Kehinde supporting Denise and all her children. When Dele was eight, Kehinde moved back to his home city of Lagos.
The youngster – a prince of Nigeria’s Yoruba tribe through birth – soon moved there to join him.
They lived in a 10-room mansion where Dele led a life of luxury, being waited on by three maids and attending a private £20,000-a-year international school.
Dele Alli’s parents are no longer together, but met for our interview in a bid to patch up their relationship with their son
Dele later moved with Kehinde to another mansion in Houston, Texas, and was best man at his dad’s wedding to Lola in 2006.
He returned to England aged 11 after his talent for football and obsession with the game became clear.
Kehinde says: “It was hard for me to let him go but I knew it was the best thing for him and his ambition.”
After returning to Milton Keynes to live with Denise, Dele began playing for junior side City Colts.
He was quickly spotted by youth scouts from the town’s Football League club MK Dons.
Dele Alli moves best friend into £2million mansion as thank you for childhood generosity
Steve Bainbridge/Sunday Mirror
Dele is a prince in Nigeria’s Yoruba tribe through his father
Denise said: “When he was about 13 Dele began training at MK Dons five days a week. So for convenience he began staying at his best friend’s house during the week, before coming home at weekends. It was hard to let him live away from home, but we didn’t have a car and I was finding it hard to get him to training myself.
“It has been said that I was suffering from alcoholism and I gave him up because I couldn’t look after him, but that is a lie. I wanted to give him the best chance of achieving his dream, but he was still my son and I was there for him whenever he needed me.
“He was never adopted by his friend’s parents – I would not have allowed it. My kids are my world.”
Dele’s parents were saddened that they missed out on seeing him sign his first professional contract for MK Dons, aged 16, as they were not invited or told it was happening.
The footballer was sent to a £20,000 a year international school in Nigeria as a child
And as time went on he gradually began to withdraw from his family.
He stopped answering phone calls, came home less, missed family events and finally cut contact completely.
Our exclusive picture of Dele with his mum shows them together the last time he spoke to her, two years ago.
In despair, Denise went to try to talk to him outside Tottenham’s White Hart Lane stadium after a match there last year. But instead of stopping to speak to her he simply walked to his car.
Wiping away copious tears, Denise recalls: “I didn’t have a ticket for the game but I went to the ground because I wanted to try and see Dele.
“I waited outside after the match and when Dele came out I quietly said to him. ‘Dele… it’s me… your mum’.
An excited young Dele plays with a new bike in 1998
“He didn’t stop. He just looked at me, said he was busy and drove off. I was in tears, it was heartbreaking.
“Some fans who had overheard asked if I was really his mum and why he was treating me like that. I told them, ‘I just don’t know’.”
“When I got home I had a call from a man who said he represented Dele. He accused me of shouting to Dele, which I didn’t, and said if I tried to do it again I’d be banned from the ground for life. It was horrible.”
Kehinde, an oil, gas, and technology entrepreneur, thinks his son is being manipulated by others for financial gain.
He has repeatedly made the 5,000-mile journey to London from his home in Houston, trying to reunite the family. He has bought tickets for a string of Spurs games home and away just so he can see Dele in the flesh and support him, including at the club’s 1-0 win over Middlesbrough earlier this month.
He has also spent a full day standing outside Tottenham’s training ground and even paid to go on a tour of White Hart Lane in the hope he would see Dele.
Kehinde says: “Not being able to see or speak to him hurts a lot. Myself and his brothers watch all his games on TV and they ask me, ‘Why won’t he see us?’
“Dele has apparently told his sister I was never there for him growing up, but I can’t understand that. He lived with me for years and I have always been there for him both emotionally and financially
Dele at his dad’s mansion in Nigeria in 2003
“Up until he was an adult I paid for every holiday he ever went on and all his costs. I bought him his first car when he passed his driving test. Now he is turning his back on the family who love him.”
Kehinde adds: “I know some people will think we just want him for his money, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m very wealthy in my own right and I don’t need a penny from Dele.
“I just want to be here for him and for him to know that I love
Kehinde is a multimillionaire and says he’s not interested in his £60,000-a-week son’s wealth
Denise, who still cuddles Dele’s childhood Chelsea FC bedspread to feel close to him, says: “Every night I say a prayer asking for God to bring him back to us. I dream about him coming home.”
Dele Alli said he had no comment to make on his parents’ claims.
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