football

Dele: Everton midfielder tells Monday Night Football he 'can see the light' as he hopes to make return

Dele says he is "doing really well" and "can see the light" as he closes on a return to the pitch.

The 28-year-old has not played since February last year, when he was replaced at half-time in Besiktas' 0-0 draw with Antalyaspor.

In July, Dele spoke to Gary Neville on The Overlap and revealed he had voluntarily spent six weeks in rehab in the USA to help deal with an addiction to sleeping tablets, as well as trauma stemming from sexual abuse he suffered as a child.

Dele returned to Everton at the end of his loan spell in Turkey last summer but is yet to add to the 13 appearances he made for the Toffees under Frank Lampard.

However, the midfielder is targeting a return to action in the near future, telling Sky Sports' Monday Night Football: "I’m doing really well. I’m injured, which is disappointing, but feeling good.

"When I did that interview I said it was the best I had felt at that time, coming out of rehab and being ready to come back playing. It’s been tough but it’s a journey I’m on and I’m just waiting to get back now."

Dele - who has 37 caps for England - added: "I tore my rec fem [rectus femoris]. I’ve really had to learn what patience is.

"It’s been a long journey with the injury - a lot of ups and downs - but I’ve learned a lot and it’s helped me grow even more as a person, which I’m grateful for.

"I’m obviously not grateful to be injured but it’s been good to really get to know myself. I think the pain of the injury is something I can really channel when I am back and use to motivate me.

"After the interview, people were asking me when I was coming back to football and thinking I was taking a break, but it’s just been an injury. It’s one that hopefully I am getting to the end of.

"I can see the light at the end so I’m excited."

Dele's first aim is to get back to full fitness and get back playing again.

The former Tottenham forward, who admitted he has found it difficult to watch football in recent months, revealed he should be back in full training by the end of the current campaign and is confident he can get back to the level he once showed for Spurs and England, targeting a place at the 2026 World Cup with England.

He said: "I know my level as a player, I know where I can get to and how good I can be when my head is in the right place.

"I'm feeling good. Obviously, I'm disappointed with the injury but I'm excited to get playing again. It's hard for me to even watch football. It's been tough these last eight months."

When asked if he thinks he can back playing to the level he was, he said: "I hope so.

"I have a reminder on my phone every day at 11 o'clock that says World Cup 2026. That's my aim.

"People will say I haven't played in a year but that's my aim. I know what my level is."

Dele is out of contract at Everton this summer and while he was coy on what the future could hold for him, he is keen to stay in the Premier League.

"The only target I have for now is the World Cup," he said.

"I'm injured right now and my mind is just take it day by day and make sure my injury heals right and make sure I'm in the best possible condition after the summer.

"I'm signed to Everton so I think it will be disrespectful to speak about anything else. They have been so amazing with me and I don't know the details of that situation yet.

"I want to stay in the Premier League. I want to be at the highest level and playing with the best players."

Dele's emotional interview last summer prompted an outpouring of support for the former MK Dons and Tottenham midfielder, and he admitted he was surprised at the reaction he received.

"I had to do it for my reasons but when I did the interview, I said that to help one person was all I needed," Dele explained. "The help and support was overwhelming.

Everton appeal against second Premier League points deduction

"It was amazing to see how many people it did help. I'm very proud of it."

Dele is understandably desperate to end his 14-month absence but says the support he sought last summer has helped him to deal with the lengthiest injury of his career.

"Injuries would have been right at the top of the list of things that would be mentally the toughest to overcome," Dele admitted. "Before this injury, I think the longest injury I had was eight weeks and that felt like forever.

"That’s why I’m thankful I went through the process in the summer because if I hadn’t learned everything I learned, this would have been so tough.

"It’s been over a year now where I’ve just been wanting to play football. It’s made me even hungrier to get back now."

Dele was signed by Lampard after seven years with Spurs in January 2022 and featured 11 times during the second half of the 2021/22 season as the Toffees successfully battled against relegation.

Dele made a key contribution in the 3-2 win over Crystal Palace at Goodison Park that secured their Premier League survival, coming on at half-time with Everton 2-0 down and helping to engineer a memorable comeback.

But Dele made just three more appearances under Lampard, who was sacked in January 2023, and is yet to feature under Sean Dyche.

However, Dele is grateful for the support the Everton boss has provided during his time on the sidelines and believes the former Burnley manager is taking the club in the right direction.

"It’s a very good relationship," Dele said of Dyche. "It’s as good as I could have imagined given I’ve not been able to play. He’s supported me a lot and we’ve had a lot of very good conversations.

"When Frank was the manager and I joined them, the team wasn’t performing as well. I had the conversation with Frank before I joined and his ideas of how he wanted to play, but I don’t think he realised how difficult the job was going to be.

"It wasn’t his fault. I think he wanted to play football and press, but the club was kind of going through a transition from what I could feel.

"They had unbelievable players with a lot of quality, but some wanted to play and some didn’t. We needed to stay up and that can cause a lot of problems, especially if the manager’s ideas don’t match what the players are ready for.

"Even being injured, I can see the identity of the team now so it’s been amazing. Hopefully the club can keep building."

Everton would be 14th in the Premier League based on their results this season but are instead battling relegation thanks to a total of eight points that have been deducted for breaching Profitability and Sustainability Rules.

But Dele is confident his team-mates will avoid a first relegation from the Premier League, saying: "We can only focus on the games - we can’t get caught up in what’s going on.

"They’ve done an unbelievable job. I can feel it when I walk around the place - a real focus and not getting caught up in everything that’s going on.

"They’re an unbelievable group of players and I hope they’ll finish the season strong. The chances they create, they can win most games. I think they’ll be fine."