Saturday April 30 2016
Ex-Inter youth player attempted suicide

Former Inter youth team player Martin Bengtsson revealed he tried to commit suicide while aged 19, but the club struggled to help him.

The Swede made his professional debut at 16 for Orebro SK and was expected to be the next Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but injury and the strict rules of the Nerazzurri youth academy saw him hit a low point.

“I had a very clear goal when I was six or seven and that was to play for AC Milan but, in the end, it became Inter,” Bengtsson told The Dark Side of Football.

"From seven or eight I set up my own training programme where I would train for three hours on my own, plus the training I did with my team as a kid.

“My only focus was on becoming a footballer and my whole identity was built around that. It was only football.

“The problems started with an injury in my knee at the end of the first season at Inter. During this period I could not play football, I was just on the couch.

“After you have played all the Pro Evolution and FIFA games and tournaments you realise there is nothing else to do.

"Because when you play so much football it becomes the only way to value yourself. It is always about the game, you are never any better than your last game.

“I needed someone to talk to, and not just to say ‘try harder’ or ‘think positive’ – it is not about ‘thinking positive’ or ‘realising your goal’.

"A lot of times it’s always about how to get better results, but it should be about getting young footballers to develop other sides.

“I had to identify myself when I came in or out (the dorm). You could not go out after 9pm. It was hard to have any family members in the house, it was a bus that picked us up and took us to training, eating, back on the bus and then sleeping.

“Many of the players felt it was like a prison with no freedom to move. I felt that combined with a feeling of ‘am I a footballer or not?’

"It caused my depression to go deeper and my solution was to ask if I could go into the city to buy a guitar, to have something to do while I was not playing football in the evenings because I could not do anything or go to school.

“I asked and they kept saying ‘tomorrow’, ‘tomorrow’ but eventually I bought it.

“You spend your whole life doing it: six hours a day for a long, long time. Everyone asks you if you can really become a footballer and you say ‘yes, I will’ but they doubt you so you stare them in the eye and say ‘yes, I will’.

“But then I faced myself with that and it was maybe not the world I thought I was supposed to be in and I saw no escape.

"I was too proud, probably, to just say ‘hi, I am not made for this’. I was too ashamed and this shame led to a suicide attempt.

“I prepared razors in the bathroom the night before, I think it was September 21, 2004. I went up in the morning and cut myself in the wrists and arms and I started to bleed, I got into my room somehow and I fell there.”

Even after such a drastic act, Bengtsson said the Inter youth academy were ill-equipped to help.

“They sent in a therapist who stood in my room and said ‘It’s so weird; you have everything you could wish for in life, everything.

"‘You are a footballer player at one of the biggest clubs in the world, earning a lot of money, you have a car.’ And the last thing she said was: ‘you can sleep with any model you want’.

“And somewhere there I just realised this is how people look at football players. This is their idea of a perfect life and somewhere there it was so clear that it was not for me.”

Bengtsson retired from football in October 2004 and became a musician, while he now tours Sweden speaking to youth teams to build awareness of psychological problems they might encounter.

“I would definitely say that my demons are gone, but life can still be a rollercoaster and there are new things that happen. But I am not depressed anymore.

“The football world was too narrow. It was the games, the practice. You can become a better player and probably a multimillionaire too, but for me it was not interesting enough. It was not enough.”

Image via Corriere dello Sport