A comeback story.

4 min readJul 24, 2023

Written by Lethukukhanya Mosetlhi

Isco and Dele Alli

Football is able to create narratives that are nearly impossible to replicate in day-to-day life. One of those being, the idea of a proper comeback, for us as more ordinary civilians there is no crowd that cheers your return from injury, there is no club to go back home to, there is no equivalent (at least in my life) to winning 4–0 at Anfield after losing at the Nou Camp.

May 7 marks a year to the day since Liverpool pulled off the impossible, the unthinkable. Coming back from 3 goals to beat Barcelona 4–0

Barcelona’s “Remontada” against Paris-Saint Germain

Liverpool coming from 3–0 down in Istanbul to winning the big one.

Football’s comeback stories are plentiful but for me it’s when the players themselves are the subject of a comeback are when it captivates me most, these feel like stories that are driven by emotion more than anything else, stories that aren’t driven by the manager, where the player is able to take centre stage and control his own destiny.

So much of life is up to chance, when a player comes back from obscurity it feels like watching a person take control of one small aspect of their life and making the absolute most of it.

Isco, deciding to speak publicly about his troubles at Sevilla and his decision to pursue therapy to make sense of the direction his career had turned, comes a week after Dele Ali made the brave decision to speak openly about his own struggles, in a very welcome turn of events where players share the depths of their experiences while still active footballers instead of years after the fact.


Through what they’ve provided, the human element of what makes a great comeback story is a lot more tangible than it typically would be in scenarios like theirs.

Both footballers for vastly different reasons now have the opportunity to rebuild themselves and reshape the narratives around them, both branded as lazy professionals with overinflated egos, both have had the chance now to speak and for their versions of events to be heard. Isco, a Champions League winner, a vital piece in Real Madrid’s side in a time where Gareth Bale’s body had begun to fail him, quickly stripped of the perception of a super talent, and derided and turned into an unprofessional distraction and frozen out. The stories of what he’s endured, from physical altercations with his coach Jorge Sampaoli, to contracts being changed on the fly that scuppered his move to Union Berlin, all speak to a massively unprofessional environment that he has had to adapt to.

Dele, from a young player of the year winner and a key part of Tottenham reduced to being a lazy trainer through one out of context conversation with Mourinho.

Dele Alli

In the past few years, as the ground-breaking idea that footballers are human beings has come to the forefront of discussion, interviews like the one that Dele Ali had with Gary Neville are thankfully becoming more commonplace.

What he shares in that 45-minute conversation is touching because although the details around exactly how things started to go wrong for him at Tottenham aren’t explicit, the interview still manages to highlight the extent to which our understanding as fans and spectators of footballers and their respective difficulties is at the best of times, extremely limited. Even in the moments where the veil is lifted beyond just a celebration or Instagram post, or as pointed out by Dele in the interview, a snippet of a conversation in a documentary. We still don’t have the full picture, the narrative around Dele has at long last been given context by the man himself.

We often attempt to form ideas around people we don’t know intimately, and often that can’t be helped, you can only work with what you do know, and as has been shown here, that can end up not being enough, and despite that lesson being repeated time and time again it seems it doesn’t quite stick.

Whether it’s Dele, or Isco, through the two players deciding to speak openly we have access to a level of insight rarely afforded to fans, hopefully the net result will be that fans end up leaving a lot more room for what they don’t know instead of judging players based on the headlines aimed at furthering narratives that clubs and the media are all too happy to send ou




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