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To beat the ‘Black Dog’, depressed players should get off the shrink’s couch, walk the talk and go fishing

Victimhood among the privileged, who earn more in a season than fans do in a lifetime, is never attractive

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 October, 2016, 2:07pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 October, 2016, 9:54pm

Life is tough for our weekend heroes. All the pressures of the modern game, managing fans’ expectations and organising how to spend obscene amounts on bling and investing all that wealth onshore and off . . .

Little wonder all the strife can have a devastating effect on a professional footballer’s mental health. And according to new research by the professional footballers’ union FIFPro, when the game’s up retirement brings another onset of the blues.

Between three and nine professional footballers in a 25-strong squad could show symptoms of common mental disorders such as distress, anxiety or depression during a season, the union found.

The study of 262 players from five European countries found 95 per cent believed symptoms of common mental disorders negatively influence football performances, with 65 per cent claiming their own football career was influenced by their poor mental health.

An overwhelming 84 per cent said there were not enough support measures during their football career to properly manage symptoms of common mental disorders.

Those players put out to grass suffer badly, the paper discovered.

One day you are in a pampered five-star world where everything is arranged and everybody looks after you – and then boom, you crash into a planet (earth) where you must do everything yourself. There are no teammates, friends, banter groupies, wannabe Wags, training, scoring goals and celebrating – the noise of the crowd . . .

FIFPro has published a special guidebook in 15languages explaining symptoms of common mental disorders and providing information for support.

More than 10,000 guidebooks have been shipped to 24 countries, though it’s not clear if one of the English editions is winging its way to Old Trafford addressed to a certain No 10.

Mental health afflictions are the great leveller, after all, taking the toughest and richest to the pit of despair.

Indeed, cognitive fragility has been the bedrock of many a genius – Paul Gascoigne, Maradona and George Best among them.

But what about a “How to Cope” guidebook for fans? The pay scale of egotistical footballers alone gives many of us anger issues, let alone the maniacal highs and lows of competition.

Then there are the peccadilloes of the other actors in the multibillion-dollar business – agents, owners et al – to send any sane supporter round the bend. And that’s just the off-pitch antics.

This week we learned of an under-11s match-fixing scandal in China; of a players’ strike in Zambia’s lower league because teams have not been paid and families are going hungry; of Iranian supporters made to chant holy slogans from the terraces instead of traditional chants; of Wayne Rooney’s £5 million tax avoidance.

In England, the money-mad lunatics took over the asylum long ago.

Derby fans must be going potty at the reappointment of Steve McClaren. Eyes swivel on hearing the FA are poised to appoint Gareth Southgate as the full-time Three Lions boss. And if we have to watch Jordan Henderson ever again in an England shirt, we’ll scream the mad house down.

It grates that some professional players are able to source and organise clever accountants to avoid paying millions in tax, and make shrewd investments to make them financially secure for life – yet need their union to tell them how to cope whenever the black dog barks the blues.

Supporters, however, adopt a stiff upper lip and get on with things because otherwise the sky really would fall in.

Advising players on mental health problems is FIFPro’s duty. But boasting about them in an alarming fashion accentuates the view players are overly pampered.

It’s no surprise some become depressed when their warped sense of entitlement fails to find purchase in the real world. Victimhood among the privileged, who earn more in a season than fans do in a lifetime, is never attractive.

Rather than mope, players should go out on to the terraces and watch a game shoulder to shoulder with hard-working fans.

Downtrodden retired players might consider coaching walking football, which given its growing appeal among amateur players over 40, is about to be regulated, given rules and placed into a proper league structure.

Then there’s the drive to make fishing an Olympic sport. Maybe a second career trying to hook a gold medal might be good therapy.

Players – retired or otherwise – will soon learn from supporters put through the shredder each weekend that there are many reasons to be cheerful.