Per Mertesacker’s revealing comments about the pressure of modern football have been met with some surprising criticism. DW’s Jonathan Harding asks, what is the world coming to?Per Mertesacker’s comments in Spiegel about being so anxious before games he would nearly vomit are startling, but they are also to be respected and appreciated. Anything else would be inhumane.
Lothar Matthäus who might appreciate Mertesacker’s world more than most ended up showing why he is in the studio and not the dugout. Speaking on Sky Sports in Germany, the 1990 World Cup winner asked how Mertesacker could possibly approach his job working at the Arsenal academy next season in the wake of these revelations.
The comments of some ex-professionals and other media outlets are part of the problem. They smack of men talking about a game they remember rather than the reality of what it is. They — the voice of the all-knowing expert — are part of the reason athletes don’t reveal a deeper truth. They contribute to football’s chamber of pressure. They are partly the reason why it’s so often “I give my all in training” and not “the experience is draining.”
In a world of unimaginable pressure and expectation, athletes are constantly expected to perform superhero feats week in, week out without any care given to their human traits. Why? Because they live in a world of unimaginable privilege? To reduce any athlete to their earnings is anything but human. Money may well change a life but it is still a human life.
Mertesacker’s comments are an example of a man not only football needs, but also the world. A good man, an honest man, for whom the world extends beyond the realms of the football field, deserves support. This is a man who was a teammate of Robert Enke, the former Germany goalkeeper who committed suicide.
Anyone brave enough to reveal a truth as startling as his — in a world as unrelenting as his — deserves support.
In an era of football where many fans are being pushed further and further from the game, finances are astounding and come from questionable sources, what could be more necessary than Mertesacker’s comments? The personal experience of pressure and how it affected him not only makes him more a tangible sportsman — a rare thing indeed — but also makes him a better coach. Most of all, it makes him more human.
Truth is harder to find today than perhaps ever before. When it arrives, it should be commended. Most of the responses to Mertesacker’s moving interview did show that change is already here, that acceptance of the human aspect does exist. But this has to be a start, not an anomaly.