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Surge in players seeking mental health treatment in England

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Dropping in on football clubs across England to speak to players, Michael Bennett poses a question he already know the answers to.

[ MORE: Real Madrid insists Thibaut Courtois didn’t have anxiety attack ]

“How many of you look after the physical aspects of your game?”

The hands all go up, of course. They don’t need to be reminded of the importance of sleep, nutrition and rehydration by the Professional Footballers’ Association welfare director.

“But when I ask how many look after yourselves emotionally, they don’t answer me because they don’t think about the emotional side,” Bennett said in an interview with The Associated Press. “That’s why you have to make them aware the emotional side of the game is as important as the physical side. They both go hand in hand.”

Bennett’s work is busier than ever before, with a surge in members seeking support for mental health issues.

Data provided to the AP shows 544 PFA members — mostly men — accessed therapy from January to September — up from the 438 who used the union’s counseling services throughout 2018. It represents an increase of almost 25 percent on last year’s total with three months of the year remaining.

[ MORE: Top Premier League storylines: Week 8 ]

“The main reason they come forward is stress, depression and anxiety but we are aware that is a symptom of something,” Bennett said. “So we try to find out what is causing it. It could be long-term injury. It could be bereavement in the family. It could be a marriage or partnership break up. It could be a gambling issue which is prevalent at the moment.”

Bennett has a better insight than most in the English game. He played across the professional leagues, including for Charlton and Wimbledon in the topflight in the 1980s and 1990s. After training as a psychotherapist and counsellor, Bennett joined the PFA and he has been welfare director for eight years.

The PFA’s mental health services this year have been used by 553 men — 250 active players — and 26 from the women’s game. Eleven people from families of PFA members also sought support.

Only 160 PFA members accessed counselling services from the union in 2016. But any stigma around seeking help for mental health problems has been eased in the national sport by leading players, including Tottenham defender Danny Rose, talking about fighting depression. The English Football Association campaign has also launched a “Heads Up” campaign fronted by Prince William.

“We want to make them aware you don’t need to suffer in silence or be alone,” Bennett said from the PFA’s annual mental health conference at the St. George’s Park training base for England national teams.

The struggles are starting even earlier for players chasing professional contracts.

“What has changed is the tension,” former Arsenal captain Per Mertesacker, who now manages the club’s academy, told the AP. “I was injured for a year when I was 16 and to come back into academy football at the same club (Hannover) was easy at that time.

“When you are injured now for a year you are almost gone because your chance was there and you didn’t probably take it. So the judgment and assessment will be much earlier than back in the day.”

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Mertesacker now has to prepare his academy players for not making it about their club.

“People write you off, but you never should never settle,” Mertesacker said. “There’s huge expectation for yourself, from your parents around you. … So we need to make sure we create an environment where they feel safe with a good football program as well using football as a vehicle to teach them a lot of other stuff which can be helpful to life.”

The PFA has tracked how being rejected by clubs so early can see players doubt their worth and identity.

“The demands from the family, the demand from the club and more so the demand they put on themselves can be so intense,” Bennett said. “It can be unbearable and they think they can’t cope.”

Social media just adds to the toll. There is the abuse — too often racist — that players can receive on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Then there are the pressures to show a perfect life and body.

“We are seeing self-image and eating disorder issues are on the rise, particularly in the younger population,” Bennett said.

A weight on the shoulders of players at third-tier clubs Bolton and Bury in recent months was the future of their clubs being under threat. While Bolton was eventually rescued by a takeover, Bury was expelled from League One in August, leaving players out of work. The PFA stepped in to help them.

“It’s a public perception that all footballers earn a hundred grand a week or even more than that and why should they have any financial issues,” Bennett said. “They do and they can still have bereavements, issues in families and injuries that can impact them.”

LIVE, Europa League: Arsenal, Man United, Wolves in action

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The knockout rounds of the 2019-20 UEFA Europa League campaign is here and three Premier League teams are in action on Thursday.

Everything is set up for an epic day of first legs in the Round of 32.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores  ]

Arsenal travel to Olympiakos who dropped down from the Champions League, while Wolves host La Liga strugglers Espanyol and Man United travel to Club Brugge who exited the UCL at the group stage after some impressive displays.

With a Champions League spot for next season up for grabs for the Europa League winners, there is always a little extra spice in this tournament from here on out, especially as plenty of giants have dropped out of the Champions League and joined the Europa League for the Round of 32.

Glasgow Celtic and Rangers both face tricky tests as Steven Gerrard‘s side face Braga and Neil Lennon’s Celtic head to Copenhagen.

Elsewhere there are plenty of mouthwatering ties at Jesse Marsch’s RB Salzburg drop into the Europa League and travel to Eintracht Frankfurt. Antonio Conte‘s Inter Milan head to Ludogorets, while Ajax travel to Getafe after narrowly missing out on reaching the Champions League last 16.

Below is the schedule in full for Thursday’s games, while you can click on the link above to follow all the action as it happens.


Full Europa League schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Club Brugge v. Manchester United
Ludogorets v. Inter Milan
Copenhagen v. Celtic
Eintracht Frankfurt v. RB Salzburg
CFR Cluj v. Sevilla
Sporting Lisbon v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Benfica
Getafe v. Ajax

3 p.m. ET
Rangers v. Braga
Wolves v. Espanyol
Olympiacos v. Arsenal
Bayer Leverkusen v. FC Porto
AZ Alkmaar v. LASK
Roma v. Gent
APOEL Nicosia v. FC Basel
Wolfsburg v. Malmo

VIDEO: Henry’s Montreal debut ends with dramatic collapse

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Thierry Henry’s first game in charge of the Montreal Impact started well but ended in a dramatic collapse. The legendary Frenchman probably has CCL fever right about now.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Montreal drew 2-2 at Deportivo Saprissa in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League last 16 game on Wednesday as Orji Okwonkwo and Romell Quioto put them 2-0 up inside the first 22 minutes but Saprissa struck twice in the final 10 minutes to draw level. Both of Montreal’s goalscorers went off injured and after a tough preseason a late collapse

Johan Venegas pulled one back for the Costa Rican side in the 80th minute and Ariel Rodriguez equalized in the 90th minute to set up an intriguing second leg at the Olympic Stadium next Wednesday as the winner will face the Seattle Sounders or C.D. Olimpia in the quarterfinals.

Henry’s first official game in charge of the Major League Soccer franchise will have taught him a lot about his team and in truth they were pretty lucky to grab a draw as Saprissa outshot them 22-7 and had 72 percent of the possession.

Via MLSsoccer.com, the Arsenal and France legend was happy with the spirit his young side showed after a tough offseason which saw them lose four of their five preseason games amid plenty of turnover in the squad.

“We tried to compete, it was always going to be a difficult second half, but overall, I cannot say anything to my team,” Henry said. “Obviously there are some things that we need to work on, on how we conceded the goals, but you could see how it was difficult at times to cover each other. But at the end of the day, as a coach, when you see your team fighting like that up until the end you can only be proud. Obviously there’s some stuff that we can work on, don’t get it twisted, but I have to be proud about how they played. Especially how we arrived there in the situation that we are in.”

Going away to Costa Rica to play an experience team like Saprissa was never going to be easy and Henry’s side are at least level for the return game but Montreal’s squad is looking pretty young and replacing the creativity and goals of Ignacio Piatti is going to be tough.

Check out the highlights of the dramatic Saprissa comeback in the video above.

Premier League player Power Rankings

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Our latest Premier League player Power Rankings are here and there are some familiar faces sticking around the upper echelons.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Stars from Premier League giants Liverpool, Man United, Arsenal and Tottenham dominate our power rankings after some impressive performances and there are plenty of new entries and plenty of players from the same teams as these rankings are based on the seven games played over the last seven days due to the second half of the Premier League’s winter break kicking in.

[ MORE: Club Power Rankings

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League. If they didn’t play in the last matchweek, they aren’t getting in this list!

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.


1. Heung-Min Son (Tottenham) – Up 2
2. Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool) – Up 2
3. Jordan Henderson (Liverpool) – Up 2
4. Dani Ceballos (Arsenal) – New entry
5. Bukayo Saka (Arsenal) – New entry
6. Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Man United) – New entry
7. Richarlison (Everton) – Up 8
8. Harry Maguire (Man United) – New entry
9. Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) – New entry
10. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – New entry
11. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – New entry
12. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) –  Down 11
13. Nicolas Pepe (Arsenal) – New entry
14. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – Down 3
15. Hugo Lloris (Tottenham) – Down 7
16. Bruno Fernandes (Man United) – New entry
17. Nick Pope (Burnley) – Even
18. Steven Bergwijn (Tottenham) – Down 5
19. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal) – New entry
20. Pepe Reina (Aston Villa) – New entry

Barcelona sign Martin Braithwaite

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has signed Denmark forward Martin Braithwaite to help fill its injury-depleted attack.

Barcelona said on Thursday it agreed to pay the 18 million euros ($19.4 million) buyout clause in Braithwaite’s contract with Spanish league rival Leganes.

Barcelona was granted permission to sign a Spanish league player after it was left without Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele for long periods due to injuries to both attacking players.

Braithwaite will sign for the rest of this season plus four more, according the club.

He will not be eligible to play in the Champions League this season, just la Liga.

The 28-year-old Braithwaite has played for the last year at Leganes, where he arrived in mid-season of 2018-19 and helped the modest club avoid relegation.

He has eight goals in 27 appearances for Leganes this season.

His prior clubs included Middlesbrough, Girondins, and Toulouse. He played in the 2018 World Cup for Denmark.

Barcelona highlighted his ability to play “on both sides of the attack, his work ethic and commitment” and added he is a “headache for rivals.”

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