Dear Dele, Thank You.
For forty minutes, you spoke about your relationship with your family, your childhood traumas, your battle with addiction and your relationship with football which ended up bringing me to tears on numerous occasions. I hope that this piece expresses just how grateful I am.
Dear Dele, Thank You for being a role model we can be proud of. Recently, society has portrayed role models – particularly male role models – as ruthless, cold and unemotional, supposedly to inspire strength and power. Instead, through your emotional vulnerability, love and honesty you have become a symbol of strength and perseverance.
In football, this is unheard of. In life, this is invaluable. Your legacy is your strength that could define a generation. An awareness of mental health could change the way we perceive football forever.
Dear Dele, Thank you for being uncompromisingly yourself. Whether it be the way you play on the pitch or the clothes you wear; you stay true to yourself. Your sensitivity in this interview only further cements your commitment to being yourself. Your authenticities and truth are highlighted further when compared to the footballing world around you.
Ostentatious wealth plagues football, and one of its symptoms is that it causes people to compromise their values. In recent days, it appears that even the most idolised and celebrated captains of the sport are willing to turn their backs on the community they once brazenly fought for…
Dear Dele, Thank You for pulling back the curtain. Through this theatrical metaphor, I have compared footballers to stage actors to emphasise the shared standard of perfection imposed on both endeavours. Each entrance and exit must be as precise as every set play needs to be; each shot delivered with the same aplomb that every line an actor utters has to be. However, as audiences and fans have increasingly demanded perfection; we have called our performers ‘players’ – for we know people cannot produce perfection.
‘All the world’s a stage – and all the men and women merely players.’William Shakespeare
Through this interview, fans are now able to see beyond Dele the ‘player’ and speak to the person. By speaking to and acknowledging the person behind the player, we remind ourselves of the obvious: you are a person. A person who plays football. A person who experiences and is affected by life and all of the joys, stability and pain that it offers… who also plays football. When a person is affected, it also impacts the player’s football. Thank You for reminding us of that.
Dear Gary Neville, Thank You for listening. You exuded comforting, empathetic, and kind traits during the interview, and I cannot think of anyone else who could have conducted it better. Ironically, you never once overlapped or overshadowed when Dele was speaking, which beautifully showcased his truth.
The video was impeccably titled ‘Now is the Time to Talk’. This title elicited so much thought within me; with a particular focus on the ‘Now’. The ‘Now’ is when a person feels comfortable becoming vulnerable. This is so important due to the ‘Now’ being such a rare phenomenon. A person has to have reflected upon their past whilst simultaneously holding great trust in the person listening to them for them to be able to talk ‘Now’.
As a result, it is very rare that it is Time to Talk.
But it is always Time to Listen.
In the footballing world – as Dele has unfortunately exemplified – talking is the most difficult thing to do, with listening, a close second. So I implore you – the reader – to try to listen. Whether it’s with one of your mates when having a kickabout at the park or with your old man over a pint when watching the footy at your local; try to listen. It might change someone’s life. Gary Neville has certainly changed Dele’s.
Finally, Dele, Thank you for your football. I thought it would be rather apt to conclude this piece by celebrating and supporting your footballing merits as a way to diverge from the rather dehumanising phrase ‘Football First’. Your relentless running, intelligent box movement and emphatic ball-striking capabilities continue to impress the footballing world and silence rival fans.
On December 4th 2019, you gave me a memory I’ll (unfortunately) never forget by doing exactly that. With a sumptuous touch and a delightful finish against a United legend, you brought Old Trafford to an unnerving silence. Never stop silencing us, Dele.
Dear Dele, Thank You for being Human.
Alex Mitchell is a contributor to Attacking Football.