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 31, 2014, 1:27 PM EDT
Gerrard: “With all due respect to them, I said to Suarez that he was too good for Arsenal.”
Jul 31, 2014, 1:02 PM EDT
Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said several Premier League teams had interest in 19-year-old American striker Julian Green.
Jul 31, 2014, 12:26 PM EDT
Ching said his former USMNT teammate needs incentive-laden contracts to thrive, while Johnson claims Ching is jealous.
Jul 31, 2014, 11:42 AM EDT
Jermaine Jones is not the only US midfielder rumored to come home, while two Red Devils are tipped for Madrid.
Jul 31, 2014, 10:52 AM EDT
An altercation between a player and referee in a men’s league game left the official dead. What followed has been anything but pretty.
Jul 31, 2014, 10:03 AM EDT
The World Cup praise has been flowing for Klinsmann in international circles, though American analysts like Alexi Lalas, Eric Wynalda and others have condemned the manager’s approach as too cautious.
Jul 31, 2014, 9:03 AM EDT
Neymar’s health could be the key to whether Barcelona can weather the Luis Suarez suspension in pursuit of La Liga’s title.
Jul 31, 2014, 8:20 AM EDT
The Red Devils’ owners are making more of the club public following the death of patriarch Malcolm, and the club could lose adidas money if on-field success doesn’t return.
Jul 31, 2014, 7:51 AM EDT
Since putting in a good effort for the USMNT at the World Cup, Jones had been sorting out his next career move and partying with celebrities like Paris Hilton and Mike Tyson.
Jul 31, 2014, 12:23 AM EDT
Thierry Henry’s second half equalizer takes earns a point at Rio Tinto.
Jul 30, 2014, 10:43 PM EDT
The Revs’ eight-game losing streak ends thanks to another strong night from Lee Nguyen.
Jul 30, 2014, 9:20 PM EDT
The Red fall nine points back of second place United in the Eastern Conference.
Jul 30, 2014, 8:27 PM EDT
24-year-old defender loaned out for the seventh time.
Ugly scenes in Northern Ireland as Mexican U-19 player attempts to kick opponent’s head during Milk Cup brawl
Jul 30, 2014, 7:29 PM EDT
Game is eventually cut short after a yet unnamed player aimed at the head of a fallen opponent.
Jul 30, 2014, 6:46 PM EDT
Atlético’s interest could develop into Chicharito’s best option.
Jul 30, 2014, 5:58 PM EDT
Nick De Santis will stay with the Impact, albeit in an administrative role.
Jul 30, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT
Everton’s leading scorer returns to Goodison on a permanent basis.
Jul 30, 2014, 4:01 PM EDT
With immediate effect, U.S.’s women’s league will pause mid-half if when it’s too hot.
Jul 30, 2014, 3:12 PM EDT
Liverpool roll into town and people freak out! Watch this incredible reaction to Stevie G signing autographs.
Jul 30, 2014, 2:46 PM EDT
Reports from Texas state Jurgen Klinsmann’s side are playing Colombia in September.
- Simeone praises Klinsmann’s US program that “seduces us as coaches” 0
- Neymar’s recovery from World Cup back injury “almost 100 percent” 0
- Reports: Jermaine Jones coming to Chicago, move welcomed by Fire 1
- Atlético Madrid latest club linked with Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández 3
- Romelu Lukaku completes permanent, $47 million move to Everton 11
- Report: US to play friendly vs. Colombia in San Antonio 1