"At Everton, If You've Got The Talent, You Get The Chance"

by Hamish Dufton

For a 19-year-old, Dennis Adeniran has already had his fair share of highs and lows to fuel his desire to make his way in football.

From being released by Millwall aged 13, to making his debut for Fulham four years later, and now having the opportunity to train with the likes of Wayne Rooney, the midfielder is well aware of the ups and downs this game can bring.

With a resilience that comes from leaving the family home in Southwark, south London, aged just 14, the teenager has taken the move up to Merseyside in his stride, living by himself in a flat near the city centre since his arrival on deadline day in August.

It is just reward for the Under-23s talent, who had to overcome adversity early on in his career at local club Millwall. 

“I played for Victoria Park when I was a kid and then I had a little spell there,” recalls Adeniran. “I got released after a year. I remember crying because I was so upset. I have always loved playing football so to be let go was just really difficult.

“I then had a trial at Charlton, who were obviously another local club to me. But I didn’t get in there. When I was told ‘no’, I started doubting myself. It was different to Millwall because I would say I wasn’t good enough then, looking back now. There were other lads in my position who were better than me. It was a fair judgement and I had to work harder. Charlton never told me why I didn’t make it and that was tough.”

However, as Adeniran explains, it “kind of worked out in the end”. Fulham operate a development centre out of their Motspur Park training base, designed to deliver a programme for grassroots players aged between Under-7 and Under-16, placing emphasis on the technical and tactical aspects of football as well as the character and personalities of those who take part.

It was here that Adeniran regained his love and enjoyment for the game, playing as a striker within the centre for a year aged 14. It was a gamble that paid off – he was forced to move across London to live with a host family in order to get to games and training - a new experience for the young teenager. 


“It was difficult because I was used to being around my parents,” he reflects. “They came up for matches and would cook for me sometimes, but I was living in digs. It was all right. My host family were quite laid back so it was a bit like living at home. You have to create a bond because they are like your second parents. You have to go out of your way to talk to them and get to know them so it will be more comfortable for you in the house. 

“It was different to how it is now up here. I have to be more independent and know what I am putting in my own body to be ready for training or matches. 

“But I was enjoying my football at the time and was just playing for the enjoyment of the game. I had a good season in my year at the development centre and I was invited for a trial with the club. I came in for six weeks and they gave me a contract at the end of it.”

And from there, Adeniran never looked back. He was soon converted into a midfielder – “I was around 16 and we were doing a passing drill and one of my coaches saw me moving the ball, passing it and made the switch" – and suddenly found himself training alongside the likes of former England international Scott Parker and Scotland’s Tom Cairney. 

By the age of 17, he was in Fulham’s first-team squad and made his debut in an August 2016 League Cup tie at Leyton Orient’s Brisbane Road, marking the occasion with a header to open the scoring in a five-goal thriller that saw the Cottagers just edge through to the next round. 

He followed that up with a league debut when coming off the bench to help Fulham earn a point at Nottingham Forest. An FA Cup bow at Cardiff soon followed. But he wasn’t alone in stepping up a level. 

“It was great to be in and around so many good, young players,” Adeniran recollects. “We all came up at the same time and made our debuts at the same time. It is a good feeling to see the likes of Ryan Sessegnon push on, being in that mix of good players.”

Yet while the likes of Sessegnon draws regular headlines over which big club he will join next, Adeniran has already made his move. Yes, that has involved taking a step back from the first-team environment he enjoyed at Fulham in order to complete his grounding with David Unsworth’s Under-23s, but the midfielder knows he has made the right decision. 

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A post shared by B A S S S A M B O U (@bass_97) on

He’s also made a friend for life in striker Bassala Sambou. If their respective social media accounts are to be believed, the pair are inseparable. But like Sambou – who made a similar move to Adeniran when swapping Coventry City for Everton in 2016 – and the rest of the talented Under-23s, the youngster is set on returning to the first-team fold. 

“It was pretty natural with Bass,” he smiles. “We’re close because he is from London as well - he lived in Peckham - so we have that southern connection and it just clicks. I also get on really well with David Henen and Nathangelo Markelo. David’s lively! We live close to each other and we’ll go out together for something to eat. It is part of the process really, coming away from your family and coming out of your comfort zone. You have to learn how to adapt. With us doing that off the pitch it helps us on it, too.
“But I have one eye on making the step up. That is the main reason I came here because I could see that if you have got the talent, then you can get the chance. I want to make my debut for Everton and push on and hopefully become a regular. I look at Tom Davies, who is a good example of breaking through. He did that last season and is establishing himself, so it gives me confidence that if he can do it, I can do it as well.”

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