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'Secret Balance of Champions': Van Basten launches athlete book

Mental Health News

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Marco van Basten has helped launch a book about athlete health in an online event hosted at FIFPRO's offices.

The former AC Milan great joined ex-Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech in launching 'The Secret Balance of Champions – Health Challenges in Elite Sport'

Van Basten, who wrote the book’s foreword, told of how he went from becoming European champion to "an invalid who couldn’t do the shopping” because of a career-ending ankle injury.

The book that features 32 interviews with athletes including Tour de France cyclist Chris Froome and long-distance runner Mo Farah alongside medical guidance. It will be distributed to free to players through unions, and other athlete groups.

Van Basten said he felt he did not get optimum medical treatment as a player. One tip he gave footballers today is to share as much information as possible with doctors so they can receive the best possible care.

Cech, who played for years with a head brace after fracturing his skull, advised players to think positively when recovering from injury.

“I never cared about what I couldn’t do,” he said via a video link. “I cared about what I could do.”

Van Basten Milan
Marco van Basten playing for AC Milan in 1990

The launch was hosted by Margriet de Schutter, a former speed skater, who runs an online platform for athletes. She co-edited the book with FIFPRO Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vincent Gouttebarge and orthopedic surgeon Professor Gino Kerkhoffs.

Marianne Timmer, a three-time Olympic champion, said elite athletes are blessed with considerable mental strength to handle pressure.

“Sometimes it felt like the tunnel was getting smaller and smaller,” she said. “Somehow you have to reach the end.”

Evgeniy Levchenko, the president of Dutch player union VVCS, said he saw this as a footballer when he played with Luis Suarez.

“He did not care about anyone, not about the audience, anyone, even his own teammates,” he said. “He just focused on the goal.”

Sarah Gregorius playing at the 2019 World Cup, against Cameroon

Sarah Gregorius, who played 100 times for New Zealand, said: “The best athletes when they cross that white line, they’re on -- it’s an extraordinary skill.”

She spoke about adapting to different cultures and languages while playing in Germany and Japan, and her career transition to working as a policy advisor for FIFPRO in the Netherlands.

Levchenko told of the challenges of changing career when he stopped playing at age 36.

“For three or four months I slept until 11am. To compensate for the adrenaline I started car racing, motorbike racing, sky-diving. Gradually you become more relaxed when you find a goal for yourself.”