Oct 6, 2012, 8:54 AM EDT
“There’s something very, very wrong with the way of treating players and the mentality of how we see if you’re strong enough.”
From time to time, we see words like those used to describe American football. There we’ve come to expect battlefield metaphors to extend beyond the field. They may seem excessive, but you know what you’re getting into when you play a game that involves body armor.
We don’t expect those words to apply to soccer, but for Martin Bengtsson, a former player on Sweden’s U-19 national team, they’re his warning to young players whose dreams of stardom obscure the reality of club youth development. They’re a message from a man whose academy experience had him cut his own wrists.
Back in 2004, Bengtsson was signed by Italian powerhouse Inter Milan. He was 17 years old. As he told the BBC’s World Football program, his time at the club became like “prison.”
“I needed to escape and the razors became my way out. I cut as hard as I could, I needed to get out … I was really sick, I heard voices and I started to lose the feeling of whether it was night or day. What I remember is that I was walking around in a big cloud and I couldn’t handle it anymore.”
Not every player can be Lionel Messi, swept from Argentina as a 13-year-old to Barcelona’s idyllic La Masia. Some players are merely swept away. Most fail, and as they do, they persist in environments where the main measuring stick is whether a club’s investment in you will be rewarded.
The players are separated from their families. They’re learning new languages and cultures – how to be on their own at a very young age. Often they’re dropping out of school.
For Bengtsson, the cultural shift seems to have ben too much. Moving to the intensity of Italy’s soccer world from the relatively placid surroundings of Sweden, Bengtsson was surprised at club discipline that punished the entire team for individual mistakes. He reacted strongly when returning from time with Sweden to find song lyrics thrown out and his guitar privileges taken away.
For many, this type of discipline would be expected, particularly in the world of professional team sports – particularly at the level of Inter Milan. But that doesn’t mean that world is for everybody.
Bengtsson’s reaction may have been more severe than most, but thousands of young men across the globe are going through the same process. Many will succeed. Most will not. A few will risk falling into the same depression as Bengtsson.
As much as people envy professional soccer players, their paths are not without risk. If they stray off course, somebody’s not always there to guide them back on the road. Even if they’re only 17 years old.
Bengtsson recovered. He moved away from soccer. He’s currently a musician back in Sweden, part of the punk rock group Waldemaar. He’s also an aspiring novelist.
Jul 28, 2015, 10:08 PM EDT
Close to 80,000 saw Barcelona move to 1-2 in three ICC matches. Barca finishes off its tourney vs. Fiorentina in Florence on Aug. 2.
Jul 28, 2015, 9:16 PM EDT
Thank goodness Haris Vuckic’s brother follows his career over the web.
Jul 28, 2015, 7:16 PM EDT
Something tell us the exhibit won’t bring in the same sort of interest as the actual wall from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, but it does fit the bill of organized crime.
Jul 28, 2015, 6:11 PM EDT
Here’s hoping MLS makes the idea of this contest laughable in the next decade, if not sooner. Like tomorrow.
Jul 28, 2015, 5:39 PM EDT
Who takes over the ship, one in which the majority of the hands reportedly liked playing for Herrera?
Jul 28, 2015, 4:27 PM EDT
Will they hold onto Stones and Coleman? If so, expect Everton to be in the Europa League discussion and to make a healthy bid for both Cups.
Jul 28, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
The nation has now changed men’s national team managers 15 times since 2000, and only two of those changes were caretaker moves.
Jul 28, 2015, 1:59 PM EDT
Here’s a look at some of the top deals from another busy day across Europe.
Jul 28, 2015, 1:05 PM EDT
Legendary French midfielder is red-hot favorite to replace Blatter.
Jul 28, 2015, 12:35 PM EDT
Can the Eagles surprise everyone again? With Cabaye running the show, don’t rule it out.
Jul 28, 2015, 11:25 AM EDT
The latest gossip includes a cryptic message from Benzema.
Jul 28, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
Mourinho: “In my opinion he should be in the top three.”
Jul 28, 2015, 9:54 AM EDT
England international has been ripping it up for City in preseason.
Jul 28, 2015, 9:20 AM EDT
Mourinho’s men are hungry for trophies. All of them.
Jul 28, 2015, 8:15 AM EDT
Putin: “People like Mr Blatter deserve special recognition.”
Jul 27, 2015, 9:45 PM EDT
The Premier League’s big boys each play once more in the USA before heading back to England for the start of the new season.
Jul 27, 2015, 8:39 PM EDT
Afellay makes four ex-Blaugranas on the books at Stoke, where Mark Hughes is aiming for European qualification.
Jul 27, 2015, 7:56 PM EDT
As Bayern chase their fourth straight Bundesliga title (it would be a first), Mats Hummels says the league’s other teams need to stop fearing them.
Jul 27, 2015, 6:06 PM EDT
Drogba has arrived in MLS, and he even got to choose which team he’ll play for — kinda.
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