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Martin Fenin: “Look for someone you trust, and talk”

01 June 2021
Dare to talk about your mental health, advises former Czech Republic player Martin Fenin to all professional footballers.

Martin is one of four players collaborating with FIFPRO’s mental health awareness programme, Are you ready to talk? The 34-year old former striker talks about his mental health problems and alcohol abuse.

“I always fled into alcohol when I encountered problems. That was my solution.”

FIFPRO research shows that 20 to 35 percent of professional footballers experience mental health problems during their career, which implies that there are players coping with these problems in probably every dressing room. Martin was one of them. He supports FIFPRO’s awareness campaign, which focusses on looking after your own and your teammates’ mental health, and talking about it.

“Talking was my biggest problem,” Martin confessed. “I never said anything to anyone. Even until now, I have only told a few people.”

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Martin wants to share his advice, although he knows how players could react. “When I was a player, I would not accept it. But I think it would be good if I say something.”

“Look for someone you trust and tell them what is going on. It could be a teammate or anybody else. Every player has someone he or she can trust. Simply talk and don’t feel ashamed.”

Martin heard about the stereotypes in football. “As a football player you can never show your problems. When you have a depression, then you have to say ”I don’t have a depression”. When you have a problem with alcohol, then you should not say that. Never say anything.”

So, that is what Martin did. Now he realises that it was the wrong approach. He should have talked. Maybe his promising career could have evolved differently.

In 2007, he won the Talent of the Year award and made his debut for the Czech national team. He joined Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany and made a hattrick in his debut.

“Every player has someone he or she can trust”

Things changed when Eintracht relegated. He moved to Energie Cottbus hoping that his performances would earn him a trip to the 2012 European championship.

But Cottbus struggled and Martin struggled, losing his place in the national team. “To me, that was the end of the world. The only reason I was with Cottbus was because of the national team.”

“Something snapped.”

“I was happy in Frankfurt. I identified with the city. People loved me. I had lots of friends and I was hardly ever at home.”

“In Cottbus, I was either training or staying in the hotel, alone. I didn’t notice that I had some sort of depression. I was on my own more and more, taking more and more sleeping pills and drinking more and more.”

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Then Martin, dazed by a combination of alcohol and sleeping pills, fell out of a hotel window. He suffered a cerebral haemorrhage.

“I never wanted to kill myself,” Martin explains. However, media linked his accident to alcohol, depression and suicide. “That was deadly for my career.”

Martin struggled to regain his form. “Every time I didn’t play well, everybody linked it to my disease, which made the situation worse. I thought I did everything correctly, but people kept on telling me that I had a problem.”

“I realised that I had not treated my problem fairly”

He refused to acknowledge that he had mental health problems and was drinking too much. He declined to look for help. “That was also a problem. When they would say, you need help. Then I would say ‘no!’. I hated it when somebody would tell me that.”

After his career ended, Martin would stay at home and drink. “I didn’t have the power to do anything else. Whenever I tried to pick myself up, something would always go wrong and I would be drinking again.”

The turning point arrived two years ago, after Martin was in hospital for 24 days due to a serious stomach problem. He started talking with a psychologist and, step by step, he recovered.

“For the first time I realised that I had not treated my problem fairly.”

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“If someone would have told me ten years ago, then I would have said: ‘leave me alone. I don’t give a shit about what you are saying’. That’s why I think that if you talk about this stuff more, it can help much more.”

“Drinking alcohol was my real problem. Everything was connected with the alcohol. Now that the alcohol is gone, my problems are also gone.”

“I don’t have any desire to drink anymore and I notice that life is better now.”

“In our country, everybody drinks. But when I’m somewhere and I tell people that I ruined my career drinking alcohol, then I feel much stronger and people react positively.”