There was a fascinating interview the other night on El Chiringuito, featuring former Madrid player Guti, now back at the club in a coaching capacity. On the studio panel to discuss Real Madrid, Guti stunned both the audience and presenter Josep Pedrerol by referring to Cristiano Ronaldo's current form and revealing that he too, had problems after the end of a relationship and knows more than most the pressures Ronaldo will be currently facing. Explaining that he fully understands Cristiano's situation, the studio fell silent as Guti revealed that when he separated from his partner while playing for Madrid, he spent the next two years on anti-depressants.
Guti also revealed that he virtually went to pieces after the split; and to such an extent that he used to walk the two hours every day from his home to the training ground and back, since this was the only time he could focus his mind on what had happened. He told the audience that when at home he found that he could not deal with the separation, and when at training or matches he was simply expected to perform. Guti said that the pressures of dealing with personal issues while trying to maintain a normal life as a Real Madrid footballer were increased dramatically due to being in the public eye and additionally to the pressure to deliver in matches. On one particular occasion, he revealed, when Madrid were playing away from home and the team were staying in a hotel, he found himself alone in his room for two whole days from early morning just after breakfast until it was time to leave for the stadium in the early evening; just lying thinking about what had happened and how to deal with it in addition to trying to focus his thoughts on the game. He said it was like being in dark tunnel without light at the other end.
Eventually, he told the audience, the club arranged for him to see a psychologist; who prescribed anti-depressant medication which he then took for two years. When pressed to clarify the time scales by the presenter, Guti reiterated that he trained and played on anti-depressants for two whole years as he struggled to come to terms with his personal circumstances. These circumstances, he said, were known only to the hierarchy of Real Madrid, who were also aware of the medication he was subsequently prescribed.
Guti explained that through personal experience, he could fully identify what Cristiano is currently going through, and it is not always a situation that is easy to address. Personal matters of a level that require lengthy medication and psychological intervention are not something to be glossed over or swept under the carpet. When the pressures of playing for a club like Real Madrid are then added to this, the whole situation can become potentially unmanageable. Players are expected to perform to the highest standards week in week out irrespective of what may be going on in their personal lives and often supporters make no allowance for this. Cristiano's personal circumstances are extremely high profile and even though the fans know of the personal issues surrounding his separation from Irina, little acknowledgement is made of the fact that like Guti, he may well be finding the whole situation difficult to deal with.
Managingmadrid.com have regularly stated that since the purpose of this web is to discuss footballing matters as opposed to personal issues, the situation surrounding Cristiano and Irina will not be discussed. However, the dirty linen is now starting to be hung out in public and that will undoubtedly have an effect on everyone concerned. Yet despite all that, Cristiano is still expected to deliver on the pitch. The trouble is that in many cases the fans just simply don't see the players, coaches and managers as people. They see them as objects, or even to a certain extent as possessions. The fact that these guys either play, coach or manage their football team often manifests itself in the common view that to many fans, this brings the automatic right to deliver hurtful criticism on a personal level. Players, coaches and managers have lives outside the game and should have the right to lead those lives without undue criticism of a personal nature that doesn't cross over into their private lives.
I've even had this myself in the past when working at various clubs as a physio, from snide comments at the petrol station to picking up the kids at school or when out for a quiet family meal. On one particular occasion walking around the supermarket on a rare afternoon off I heard someone yell at me that I shouldn't even be in there; I should be at the club "getting people fit". If said with a smile, this would have brought a quick and witty response, but instead the comment was full of aggression. I know this is not on the same level that Cristiano Ronaldo had over the party or the much-publicised split with Irina, but the principles are the same. Some fans think that just because you play for Madrid that automatically gives them the right to hurl all sorts of insults at you simply because you are in the public eye. As Guti says, people need to start acknowledging that these guys are actually people; and just because they may be highly-paid footballers doesn't necessarily mean that they don't have the same problems and issues as the rest of us.
Depression in sport is now becoming a major issue. Various organisations including the players associations are beginning to acknowledge this and it's becoming widespread right across the game. Depression affects players of all levels and the fact that someone is a highly-paid footballer makes no difference at all; other than to supporters who expect them to carry on as though everything is fine. There will be players in the Tercera divisions who are suffering from depression and who may not have the backing of the clubs in the way that Guti did. However, with Guti publically talking about what he went through and his struggles to deal with it, perhaps people will acknowledge that although the stars of Real Madrid et al are highly-paid footballers who may want for nothing, at the end of the day they are real people as opposed to objects.
It was a sobering interview with Guti and you could tell from the reaction of both the audience and the presenters on El Chiringuito that discussing things didn't come too easily. However, as a former Madrid player he managed to make the point that no matter what may be going on in your private life, you are expected to shrug it off and play; and play well. Often that's easier said than done and as we've said, in situations like this money makes no difference. Well done to Guti for having the courage to talk so openly about his own experience.