Why It’s Time For Soccer To Speak About Mental Health

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Many who have had struggles with mental health will have recognized Cesare Prandelli’s description of the “dark cloud” that had developed inside him.

Prandelli, a former coach of the Italian national team, resigned as manager of Serie A club Fiorentina earlier this week. In a letter posted on the club website, the 63-year-old explained he was experiencing “profound distress which is preventing me from being who I really am”.

“This is the second time I’ve left Fiorentina,” said Prandelli, who previously managed La Viola from 2005 to 2010.

“The first time was not my decision, but this time it is. In life, as well as the good times, there are also dark moments which can get on top of you.

“I have been going through a period of profound distress which is preventing me from being who I really am. I began this experience with joy and love, spurred on by the enthusiasm of the new owners. It’s likely that that my love for the city, and the memories of the great moments I’ve experienced here, made me blind to the early signs that something wasn’t right inside.

“My decision has been guided by the enormous responsibility I have towards the players, the club and – last but certainly not least – to the Fiorentina fans, for whom I have great respect.

“All players at this level have talent, and when you have talent you are perceptive – I wouldn’t want my distress to be picked up and affect the team’s performances.

“Over the past few months, a dark cloud has developed inside of me, changing the way I see things. I came here to give 100%, but I now feel that this is no longer possible and therefore I have decided to step back for the good of everyone involved.”

As difficult as it is to read a fellow human being describing their pain, Prandelli deserves praise for being brave enough to speak openly about an illness that is too often hidden.

It is not for us to speculate on the cause of his suffering. But it is clear the pressure-cooker environment of soccer at its highest levels is not the healthiest of places for a person’s mental health.

The scrutiny of players and management by fans and media is relentless and fierce, every decision scrutinized and, often, criticized. For those who engage with it, social media amplifies the abuse and emboldens the abusers.

After Prandelli’s resignation, a banner was left by Fiorentina fans outside the club’s Stadio Franchi stadium.

“The man comes before the coach,” it said.

“We will always be proud of your love!”

It is a sentiment all fans would do well to remember the next time they are tempted to scream abuse at a coach, or player, for that most human of sins – making a mistake.

Despite the progress we have made as a society, there is still a taboo around mental health. This is especially true in elite soccer, where any perceived “weakness” is unwelcome in a world of finding edges and win-at-all-costs attitudes.  

This does seem to be slowly shifting though, with the realization that professional athletes can have the same struggles as the rest of us. When they speak up, they should be encouraged and the industry should take a look at itself to ensure it is offering sufficient support.

The more those from soccer can speak honestly about their mental health, the less of a stigma there will be. The less of a stigma there is, the more people will be willing to ask for help.

Prandelli finished his letter by thanking Fiorentina owner Rocco Commisso “and his wonderful family”, Joe Barone and Daniele Prade. He also thanked the “people of Florence, who I know will understand.”

“I’m aware that this could be the end of my career as a coach, but I have no regrets and don’t wish to have any,” Prandelli wrote.

“The world I’ve been a part of for my whole life probably isn’t right for me anymore – I no longer see myself in it. I’ve certainly changed, but the world is moving faster than I thought too. That’s why I believe the time has come for me to stop being swept along, stop for a while and rediscover my true self once again.” 

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call 911, go to the nearest emergency room, call Mental Health America on 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center, or text MHA to 741741 at the Crisis Text Line. Those in the UK can call the Samaritans for free on 116 123.

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