By Alicia Pryzsienak

After watching Sam Allardyce’s interview with UCFB and the LMA, a comment about pressure made me think: does anybody really understand what pressure is involved in the game?

To the public, sometimes it looks like players and managers have the perfect lives, but are we right? Having to maintain the ‘perfect life’ in front of the public eye is something which can trigger many problems for an elite player. Perfect health, lots of money - what more could you ask for? But we need to realise that wealth does not insulate anyone from pressures such as mental health.

Week in, week out, players are performing in front of thousands of fans, whilst having to grow as a person and find their way through life. Doing all of this with millions of fans on their back is not easy. Young players lucky enough to have made it as a professional may still be going through education, yet they must deal with change, setbacks, criticism and constant evaluation of not only their performance, but their life, in a much faster and on a larger scale than most people their age.

Players may be struggling with other things not related to football, and this is where even more supported is needed. In 2018, France striker Olivier Giroud admitted he “understands the pain and difficulty” linked to footballers coming out as gay, whilst also suggesting that it is “impossible” to show homosexuality in the sport. LGBTQ+ acceptance in the male football world is something which is a scarce topic and for a player going through such an experience, a very daunting task.

The sport’s incredibly competitive environment is causing a lot more players and managers to seek advice with sports psychologists, and as Sam Allardyce told UCFB during a guest speaker session: “Speaking to someone with such education can really help you manage difficult periods more effectively”.

Injuries, deselection or early retirement are all issues which must be addressed, because often players are afraid to speak out due to maintaining an ‘image’ created for footballers everywhere. Bradley Busch of The Guardian, states: “There is actually some fascinating research that shows a major hallmark for resilience in elite athletes is being able to ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness. It is the sign of a mature athlete capable of asking for the support they need."

Perfectionism and the daunting idea of the player not being demanded any more after retirement is a concept mentioned by many players. Unplanned retirements through injury are the hardest ones to deal with, with previous examples leading to a state of depression and addiction. All players need to find someone they trust, and as Allardyce suggests: “They might well be qualified, but they might not be the right person for you.”

Often players surround themselves with someone who will praise them and tell them how good they are, but what players and managers really need are people they can rely on to help them through hard times, and trust no matter what. They’re no different to the rest of us in that respect.