The Kick About: The Pressures On Footballers

The personal pressures on professional football players came to a hurried realization yesterday as news broke that Robert Enke took his own life.

The 32-year old German goalkeeper was the captain of Bundesliga side Hannover, having previously played for colossal clubs Benfica and Barcelona, and prominently figured into the selection process for his country's 2010 World Cup squad in South Africa.

Away from the pitch, Enke was being haunted by depression. His two-year old biological daughter died three years ago from a heart problem she was born with. Sadness mingled with fear as he constantly worried that his eight-month old adopted daughter would be taken from him and his wife Teresa, if the authorities discovered his illness.

Mourners left candles and flowers in memory of Robert Enke at Hannover's AWD-Arena. (Getty)

The news of Enke's suicide comes fatefully close to countryman and former superstar Sebastian Deisler's recent revelations of his own battle with the disease in a German book released this fall.

Deisler was once being hailed as the savior of German football. But the eyes of a country, and its biggest club, Bayern Munich, constantly looking to him for answers proved too much. A plague of injuries and treatment for depression eventually led the winger to retire at 27, an age when most players start to hit their physical peak.

The topic of personal misery in professional sports isn't something that receives a lot of attention. The media likes to over-feed the public on glitz. It builds up heroes like Deisler so they can be knocked down later generally with the use of slanderous language, rumours and innuendo, should they fail to live up to expectations.

According to his doctor, Enke was riddled with anxiety as far back as 2003 when he was heavily criticized at Barcelona. It took him two years to regain form, which included a stint in Turkey where he was hit with projectiles by his club's own supporters at Fenerbahçe.

The strides he made from performance anxiety may have been undone by the personal loss of his daughter.

Nature of professional football and its relationship with the public and media will not change back to a gentler time, if such a thing ever existed. The same sentiment - passion - that makes the game such a tremendous spectacle, too often leads to personal attacks and injury from the very people who are expected to be on the players' side.

In the media, there is tremendous money in opinion and so it becomes easy to dehumanize athletes for short term gain by sensationalizing every situation.

The demons that claimed Enke and sidelined Deisler, can visit anyone regardless of profession. But constant expectation to perform and the fear of failure become more intense when names are written in headlines.

As soccer grows in North America or players from this part of the world go abroad, they should never forget the lessons from Enke's tragic end. It is more important to find the appropriate coping mechanism, even if that means to walk away from the game as a mega-star like Deisler had, rather than suffering silently.

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