Oct 6, 2012, 8:54 AM EST
“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.
Mar 4, 2015, 1:04 PM EST
“My missus said to me she had done the Euro lottery – a £54m jackpot – but I said I’d take three points all day.”
Mar 4, 2015, 1:00 PM EST
Re-tooled, re-loaded and deeper than ever before, Sporting KC look set for a huge 2015 campaign.
Mar 4, 2015, 12:40 PM EST
How to watch all of Wednesday’s games live online or via the app.
Mar 4, 2015, 12:14 PM EST
Raising the Capital One Cuppity Cup Cup may just be the first title for the Blues.
Mar 4, 2015, 12:00 PM EST
“El Profe” is back for year No. 2 in Dallas, and things are looking even better than last year’s successes.
Mar 4, 2015, 11:39 AM EST
The Manchester City midfielder said he would like to follow in the steps of fellow-Frenchman Thierry Henry and one day play in America.
Mar 4, 2015, 11:00 AM EST
Who’s the best from a loaded pack of returnees?
Mar 4, 2015, 10:43 AM EST
Spurs want their star striker to rest over the summer, rather than compete for the England U21 side.
Mar 4, 2015, 10:00 AM EST
West is best, and we all know it. 2015 will be no different that 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and so on.
Mar 4, 2015, 9:51 AM EST
From league leaders to bottom feeders, points are up for grabs all across England today.
Mar 4, 2015, 8:29 AM EST
With his loan deal up at the end of the season, reports state Radamel Falcao will not return to Manchester next year.
Mar 4, 2015, 7:50 AM EST
The Hammers are winless in their last five Premier League games and face a Chelsea side coming off their first trophy of the season.
Mar 3, 2015, 11:26 PM EST
We want to watch games this weekend. We’re not interested in the rationale. Find a way to get us your product.
Mar 3, 2015, 10:05 PM EST
Montreal has ensured that Major League Soccer will have at least one semifinalist in this season’s CONCACAF Champions League after a year out of the final four,
Mar 3, 2015, 9:30 PM EST
Oh MLS: What fun is there in following the narrative?
Mar 3, 2015, 8:40 PM EST
If you’d like your supporters group to be featured on future episodes of ‘I Was There’ simply send pictures/video to @NBCSportsSoccer or NBC Sports Soccer on Twitter on Facebook using the #IWasThere.”
Mar 3, 2015, 7:47 PM EST
Vancouver may be missing that huge, huge name but is solid top-to-bottom.
Mar 3, 2015, 7:00 PM EST
It could be a dark year in Commerce City, but don’t forget that this was a promising young team that floundered last year.
Mar 3, 2015, 6:47 PM EST
The brash Englishman is happy to call the win a turning point for his club, which moves out of the relegation zone for the time being.
Mar 3, 2015, 6:28 PM EST
Videos, recaps, analysis and more from the three PL games during Week 28 on Tuesday.
- 2015 MLS season preview: Sporting Kansas City 0
- WATCH: Premier League live online via NBC Sports Live Extra – Week 28 0
- 2015 MLS season preview: FC Dallas 0
- The Western Conference will continue to dominate MLS, and we all know it 0
- Wednesday’s Premier League Preview: Seven games in action-packed matchday 0
- WATCH: Incredible 60-yard pass leads Montreal ouster of Pachuca in CONCACAF Champions League 4