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.
Dec 4, 2013, 9:38 AM EST
Rodney Marsh not exactly showering praise on current Fulham stars.
Dec 4, 2013, 8:48 AM EST
Oh, mid-week League play, how you move us…
Dec 4, 2013, 7:39 AM EST
After the Belgian striker suggested he could stay at Everton permanently, his Chelsea boss reminds all who makes the decisions. Meanwhile, Spanish reports suggest Tata Martino is watching.
Dec 3, 2013, 11:58 PM EST
Hint: NBC analyst Kyle Martino doesn’t believe the case for chance is compelling enough:
Dec 3, 2013, 11:05 PM EST
Playoffs or no playoffs, the goal should be the same. And in that light, MLS has done fine in 2013.
Some interesting names to discuss as Toronto FC declines contract options on several notable veterans
Dec 3, 2013, 10:18 PM EST
Bobby Convey, Stefan Frei and Robert Earnshaw among those not being brought back to BMO Field:
Dec 3, 2013, 8:22 PM EST
For Don Garber, there is no secret to this recipe; it’s about the right ownership group with (urban area) stadium plan:
Dec 3, 2013, 7:58 PM EST
In a word, “horse trading” … which means looking for games to play in 2014:
Dec 3, 2013, 7:29 PM EST
So, now we are showing them to you:
About that radical MLS calendar shift to a “winter” league: MLS commissioner Don Garber says it’s not happening soon
Dec 3, 2013, 6:50 PM EST
Absolutely, positively not for 2014, Garber reiterated on Tuesday:
Dec 3, 2013, 6:20 PM EST
We focus on the worst scenarios, but in 2010, fortune shined on the U.S. Whether it happens again, the States may be due for a tough draw.
Dec 3, 2013, 5:35 PM EST
How MLS players, club leaders and media members voted … and some thoughts on where the voting might be a little off:
Crystal Palace 1-0 West Ham United: Eagles protect first half goal, take first win under Pulis (video)
Dec 3, 2013, 4:57 PM EST
A late first half converted corner held up for Palace, who claimed their first win since Tony Pulis’s appointment.
Dec 3, 2013, 4:37 PM EST
FIFA World Rankings haters may have something to celebrate. Then again, ignoring the rankings for the nine-team problem may mean nothing.
Dec 3, 2013, 4:05 PM EST
You know who’s in. You know the pots. Here’s how it will go down:
Dec 3, 2013, 3:26 PM EST
Garber hopes to see a specific proposal soon, but it’s not there yet:
Dec 3, 2013, 2:21 PM EST
The Premier League’s mid-week match day kicks off at 3 p.m. Eastern with Crystal Palace vs. West Ham at Selhurst Park.
Dec 3, 2013, 2:15 PM EST
Fellaini is different. A late developer, he has only recently acquired a mastery of his gangly limbs and goofy gait.
Dec 3, 2013, 1:50 PM EST
Is it possible the United States could be drawn into the most deathly Group of Death yet? It certainly is … :
Dec 3, 2013, 1:01 PM EST
Can’t you just see the Eyebrowless Wonder gazing around with a look of complete bewilderment during the post-match interview?
- How well did Major League Soccer’s format work in 2013? Few qualms with this year’s results 3
- 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw: Here’s how it’s going to work 1
- 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw: The sum of all fears scenario for the United States 13
- World Cup Draw: United States in Pot Three 11
- Meet the Premier League’s other U.S. international goalkeeper: Cody Cropper 5
- Premier League Preview: Manchester United v. Everton 1
- Debunking the myth of Real Salt Lake, Sporting Kansas City as bitter rivals 2
- Premier League Playback: AVB’s snappy attitude, ‘Le Toon’ flying, are Chelsea back? 0
- Sit down with Orlando City SC: Taking on Beckham, emulating the Timbers and Kaka in 2015 – Part I (21)
- USA drop one spot to 14th in latest FIFA World Rankings, Portugal surge to fifth (18)
- Video of Jermaine Jones’ terrific goal Saturday for Schalke (16)
- 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw: The sum of all fears scenario for the United States (13)
- World Cup Draw: United States in Pot Three (11)