During a professional playing career you are likely to move clubs several times, whether that is your preference or not. It is a situation virtually every player must deal with.
Even a club legend like Leo Messi, after leading FC Barcelona to unprecedented success, was moved on against his and his family’s wishes. “We’d always made this our own, we were at home. We thought we would be staying here in Barcelona. But today, we have to say goodbye to all of this.” said the distraught 6-time Balon d’Or Winner on announcing he was leaving the Catalan giants.
A move to a new club can be an exciting and great opportunity to grow professionally and personally but this comes with upheaval, stress and uncertainty as shown by Messi’s tears.
From a football perspective, there will be a new coaches, fans and media to prove your worth to whilst adapting to a new style of play, demands and routines. You need to do this alongside teammates and colleagues as you begin the task of establishing connections and friendships with them.
In your personal life, a new location means moving away from your previous support network. It will present a new home and local surroundings to get familiar with. If living in a foreign country, as is the case for most Premier League players, there is the obstacle of an unfamiliar language, food and culture.
It is not just you who needs to adjust but your family too. A lot of your time will be spent with the team but your partner may not have a readily available social group they can assimilate into, and boredom and loneliness are risks. Any children have the challenge of integrating into new schools and making friends.
It is not surprising that these factors can lead to negative emotions and issues that have a significant impact on your life. A study by researchers Khatija Bahdur and Ricard Pruna found that players frequently experienced susceptibility to illness, sleep disturbances, lack of appetite, social withdrawal, loneliness, self-doubt and increased stress from relocating.
How To Cope
At 22 years old, after living his entire life surrounded by friends and family in his hometown of Leicester, Player 4 Player founder Emile Heskey made a record-breaking transfer to Liverpool. Speaking about the move he recognised “That city could have been in another country, or it could have been just down the road. It just wasn’t home, and I found it difficult.”
It left him feeling anxious, lonely and sad. He questioned his decision and tears were shed.
Eventually he settled and found a routine, friends and familiarity in his new environment but he regrets not talking to people about what he was experiencing earlier.
“We’re so macho and so think we don’t need help and don’t need to talk to anyone. We bottle it up and then things get worse for you, but there are so many people out there that would help you."
We strongly encourage players to speak to those around them such as family, their agent and their club about any worries they are having. Those people are usually more than happy to try to help as your well-being and happiness is important to them and suffering issues is entirely normal.
Now coaching at Leicester City Women, Heskey is surprised about the lack of investment clubs make in supporting players for this foreseeable problem, “This is what amazes me about football. Clubs spend millions on players, young people, and they don’t check on them or know how they are settling in.”
It is remarkable that clubs can still neglect to take a more holistic perspective of footballers as people and fail to recognise the impact this has. As Hugo Scheckter, the founder of The Player Care Group which helps clubs improve their support for players, points out, “The resources attributed to the 4 hours a player spends at the training ground compared to the 20 hours away is obviously hugely skewed, but neglecting to do player care properly can really undermine those gains made on the performance side.”
Whilst a change in approach would improve the situation for players, it is also has significant benefits for clubs as Scheckter explains, “Clubs are increasingly looking at player care as something which can not only reduce transition periods on their new signings but also as a way to reduce the financial risk of their signings – all with the result in having happier, more well looked after players and families.”
In our work mentoring and advising players, as well as from our own personal experiences, we know the difficulties and challenges a move can bring but by being open to talk about the issues you are facing, and with the right support around you, it can become a hugely rewarding and positive experience to go through. Do reach out if you would like any support or advise.
Emile Heskey was speaking to Doug Reed.