In modern sports, talent that is making the move to the majors is becoming younger and younger. Freddy Adu became the youngest ever professional soccer player when he debuted for DC United in 2015 MLS for soccer at the age of 14 years old. It is not uncommon for players to enter the senior tennis Tour at the same age as Freddy. It is however a bit sensitive for Sports such as NFL and rugby owing to their physical nature and health hazards. Today I want to talk about how young talent should be managed focusing on the sad case of one of Germany’s best young soccer prospects of all time Sebastian Deisler. For the benefit of my younger audience I will answer the question of who Deisler was.
He was an attacking midfielder who emerged in Germany in 1997 at that old favorite club of many, Borussia Monchengladbach at the age of 17 years old. His performances were so good it earned him a move to the capital club Hertha BSC two years later then a dream move to the monster club Bayern in 2002. I will focus on his time with Hertha and Bayern. Malcolm Gladwell says in his book Outliers that sometimes people owe their success to being part of the “lucky sperm club”. What is this you might say? This is being born in a particular generation to be specific particular year. Sebastian was very unlucky to have emerged at a time of turmoil in German soccer. This was after all a time in which Germany were spanked 1-5 at home by England and exited Euro 2000 with out a single win. As a result of how bad they were they looked up to a 19 year old Deisler as their savior. Supposed he was born in 1990 instead of 1980, he would have been part of a young vibrant Die Mannschaft that went to South Africa 2010 and would have had players like Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Muller who were in the similar age group. They would have offered him support and he would not have been the only “great player” in the squad.
Sebastian battled silently with depression especially during his time with Bayern. He noted in his book that he felt tired and empty back then. I do not know if clubs back in the 2000s were serious about mental health but it seems no one at Bayern took notice. He was described as extremely introverted by many Bayern players at the time. That is one aspect of soccer that I do not like. Because players earn a ton of buck, they are treated as commodities and are expected to perform regardless of their mental state. I am happy though clubs are now taking issues of mental health seriously nowadays and often employ a full time psychologist. Soccer culture in the early 2000 was such that such things as showing your emotions would be frowned upon as unmanly. The sports world has changed and am glad it is learning.
It is not surprising Deisler also suffered from various injuries which eventually forced him to retire in 2007. Being depressed as a sportsman increases the likelihood of being injured. This is because the body will be tense all the time plus the mind won’t be focused on techniques to avoid injury during play. It also didn’t help that he was diagnosed with cancer just as he was starting his Bayern career. On the plus for Bayern they should not be beaten too hard. After all they took a gambit on Deisler when they brought him to their team knowing full well he was carrying an injury. So to finish how should clubs take young players away from the spotlight? Why not try a big brother approach to them, assign a moving specialist to help them settle at a new team and make them feel more at home. Like what they do in big corporations when they hire a foreign talent to local shores.