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Depression in football: Glanced at but never pondered upon

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A footballer’s mind races on the pitch. Tactics, situations, and the sport are the only things in the mind of a footballer on the pitch. However, that sharpness declines as a cloud of uncertainty embedded with online abuse, racism, and other issues creep upon, eventually resulting in a gradual decline, first in form, then in life. It is a common mistake by the people to presume that footballers are immune to depression. It claims career, fame, wealth and life, gradually. 

The coronavirus pandemic has sprung upon depression onto several footballers. The novel virus has put their health and career both at risk and one cannot blame for a professional footballer to think about his future during these testing times and feel anxious about it.

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According to a survey by Fifpro, the number of footballers suffering from depression has doubled since the onset of the pandemic. While the glam and glitter bring along bags of money in first division football, the sport does not end there. Footballers striving to cling on to their wages in lower divisions have a legitimate reason to worry about their finances which is the leading cause of depression amongst footballers. An average contract lasts only two years according to the report, which directly points to financial uncertainty.

“In football, suddenly young men and women athletes are having to cope with social isolation, a suspension of their working lives and doubts about their future,”  Fifpro chief medical officer, Dr Vincent Gouttebarge stated

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Depression is common: One can’t see it, it has to be looked for

The recent tragic case of Josep Ilicic is a prime example of what depression can do to a professional footballer. Riding on a season-high tally of 15 goals and 9 assists, the Slovenian was making merry in the final third en route a glamorous season.

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However, as the pandemic struck, fear crept up like a man marker on the field, the only difference being that the man marker can be avoided after 90 minutes, while the fear stays on. Ilicic’s mental state slumped and after finding out his wife cheated on him, he turned from an attacking wizard to a solemn washed-up footballer contemplating retirement. The forward could not even play for ninety minutes since the restart and failed to register a goal or an assist.

Another case can be zoned in with Jesse Lingard, who unfortunately endured a rough campaign. While jokes, satires, and memes on the player are surfaced with every scroll on social media, there’s hardly any mention about the personal demons that he had to battle through.

View this post on Instagram

Im starting with the man in the mirror im asking him to change his ways. This season has been difficult for so many reasons. I lost who I was as a player and person, but I never wanted to give up, I knew who I really was on and off the pitch and knew that having been there before I could get there again. This meant working harder than I’d ever done before and trusting in those around me that they knew how to best help me achieve that. I know the fans have been frustrated but in all this time my love for this club and everyone connected to it has never left me. This team, this club is my family and I will continue to keep working harder than ever to help this team achieve its goals. ❤️🔴🙏🏾 #MUFamily

A post shared by JLingz👑 (@jesselingard) on

Lingard had to endure all the hatred before eventually claiming that he was lost as a person and a player amid his mother’s struggle with depression. Granted he did not have the most fruitful of seasons, but the 27-year-old does not deserve the hatred being spewed towards him despite giving his all in a delicate situation.

The expectations of the fans have made them superficial. The anonymity in social media helps as a catalyst as they can post what they like without caring about the player’s state of mind. Every negative comment is a potential jab to the player’s mental well-being. Some footballers can take criticism and act upon it to shut their critics without being affected by it. However, it is wrong to assume that every player has the same sensitivity or tolerance.

Bringing a player out of severe depression and bringing back to his or her best is one of the hardest things. Here is where the team camaraderie, the involvement of the seniors and managers come into forte. While today, therapy and awareness about mental health have surfaced, it was not the case before, and that was enough to the damage.

Football lost one of its greatest talents due to depression. Adriano, who was ripping apart defenders and scoring goals for fun was touted to be one of the best strikers of his generation, hit rock-bottom with the death of his father. Inter Milan captain and Adriano’s teammate Javier Zanetti still regrets to this day that the team was not able to pull Adriano out of that phase.

“Are you aware you could become the best player ever?’ We did not succeed in pulling him out of depression,” said Zanetti

While these are well known prominent and documented cases on depression, there are plenty of cases that are not out in the open yet sprawling across the divisions around the globe. One such being India’s former captain V.P Sathyan who decided to end his life due to depression after having slumped into alcoholism due to an injury.

There you have it, depression claims form in the case of Ilicic and Lingard, it claims career in the case of Adriano and it claims a life when it comes to V.P Sathyan.

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