When Dele Alli first burst onto the scene with Tottenham in the 2015/2016 season, his name quickly struck a chord among Nigerians.
The name ‘Dele” was clearly of Yoruba descent and soon enough it bespoke that he was born to a Nigerian father Kehinde.
An ‘aha’ moment that soon made him very topical to the Nigerian press, Premier League enthusiasts in Nigeria and expectedly whispers of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) having a crack at recruiting him.
Disappointingly, Alli had no tie-in with Nigeria and has gone on to become a full England international.
So what happened?
A host of players of Nigerian descent have gone on to play for other countries, boys who grew up with little or no bond to their parents’ country and culture. And that's understandable.
Alli, however, is not in this group.
As a child, he spent almost a year in Nigeria with his father and attended a school in Lagos.
According to his father Kehinde, Alli is a Yoruba prince through his birth.
He had a very close relationship with Kehinde and relocated with him to Houston, Texas. Alli was his father’s best man when he married his second wife Lola in 2006.
So why is Alli who spent almost a year in Nigeria and had a good relationship with this father so far removed from his Nigerian roots?
Alli was born in Milton Keynes, United Kingdom in April 1996 to Kehinde and an English woman Denise. Kehinde who was in the United Kingdom studying for a Masters at De Montfort University had met Denise at a nightclub.
Kehinde and Denise got married but separated three years after Alli was born. Although separated, the couple was very close and raised him together.
Alli cuts ties
Alli left his father and returned to England at the age of 11 to focus on football.
“It was hard for me to let him go but I knew it was the best thing for him and his ambition,” Kehinde told Sunday Mirror-both Alli’s parents had a sit-down interview with the newspaper.
While in England, Alli moved in with a family of one of his teammates at his first club MK Dons. He refers to them as his ‘adoptive parents’ although he was never legally adopted.
“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 on 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,” his mum Denise said in the interview.
His mum was suffering from alcoholism and voluntarily gave him to this ‘adoptive parents’ to keep the youngster away from her unfavourable surroundings.
“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.”
In this interview, Kehinde and Denise revealed details on the breakdown of their relationship with their son Alli.
According to them, Alli gradually began to withdraw from them after signing his professional contract with MK Dons at the age of 16. He last spoke to his mum in 2015.
“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,” Denise said about the last time she saw Alli.
Both Kehinde and Denise have made a series of attempts to see Dele, either by attending Tottenham games, visiting the training ground and even by joining stadium tours.
The midfielder stopped answering their phone calls, he stayed away from family events before cutting ties completely.
Denise revealed that she tried to talk to Alli after a game at White Hart Lane in 2017 but the midfielder simply ignored her and walked to his car.
“I waited outside after the match and when Dele came out I quietly said to him. ‘Dele... it’s me... your mum.
“He didn’t stop. He just looked at me, said he was busy and drove off. I was in tears, it was heartbreaking.”
Kehinde who is a millionaire oil, gas and technology entrepreneur has made several trips to London from Houston to try to reunite with his son.
He has attended games just to see his son in flesh and support him and he insists the midfielder’s new riches and fame are not the reasons he wants to reunite with his son.
“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?,” Kehinde said.
Some reports have it that Alli believes his father was never there for him growing up but that’s also confusing for Kehinde.
“I can’t understand that. He lived with me for years and I have always been there for him both emotionally and financially.
“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.
“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 him.”
According to Sunday Mirror, Alli was contacted following his parents’ claims but he said he had no comment.
Tough times for Ali
HIs parents’ plea also comes at a time when he’s having a tough time on and off the pitch.
Although he has managed five goals in 25 Premier League appearances this season and two goals in three Champions League games-including the brace goal against Real Madrid- Alli has made headlines for his reputation for diving.
He received a yellow card for diving in Tottenham’s 2-2 draw away at on Sunday, February 4 and there is also that perception of being a hot-head.