Is it only Germany, or are the incidences of stress and depression common to professional football in other countries? This is the question being pondered by DFB president Theo Zwanziger in the wake of the suicide bid last weekend of FIFA referee Babat Rafati.
The reasons for the Rafati drama are not clear but Zwanziger has expressed his clear concern about the pressures at the top of the game. He said: “The pressure in competitive sports is extremely high,” said Zwanziger, “and we do not always make it easy to keep a proper perspective.”
Zwanziger has plenty of evidence on his own doorstep.
In 2007 Bayern playmaker Sebastian Deisler retired at the age of 27, worn down by injuries and repeated incidences of depression; in 2009, even worse, came the suicide of national team goalkeeper Robert Enke; another Hannover goalkeeper, Markus Miller, has just returned to training after a break for stress – the same diagnosis which led to Ralf Rangnick stepping down as coach of Schalke.
In mid-October the Czech international Martin Fenin, playing for Energie Cottbus in the second division, fell through a hotel window in circumnstances which are not clear. He was not critically injured and admitted to several months feeling increasingly weighed down by depression and loneliness.
Ulf Baranowsky, of the players’ union, says: “There are too many clubs where not enough concern is shown for psychological issues.”
Where referees are concerned, German officials’ supremo Herbert Fandel believes the scapegoating of his colleagues has gone too far.
Fandel spoke up after last weekend’s match between Koln and Mainz was postponed following the Rafati incident. The referee was discovered in his hotel room, having slashed his wrists. He was treated in hospital, has returned home and is undergoing counselling.
This was not the first refereeing drama this season. Back in October the national tax authorities raided the Frankfurt headquarters of the German federation, the Deutscher Fussband-Bund. The raid was in connection with allegations of tax irregularities concerning the annual declarations by two dozen match officials about travel expenses and kit, mostly for international matches.
Later it emerged that the tax authorities had been tipped off by by Manfred Amerell, a former referee and then chairman of the referees assessors, who stepped down last year after a gay harassment scandal. Amerell had launched court action against the DFB which was halted after an out-of-court settlement.
All this has piled the pressure on Zwanziger at the most high-profile stage of his football career.
Only last June Zwanziger became a member of the FIFA executive committee only last June on behalf of European federation UEFA in succession to Franz Beckenbauer. Then, last month, he found himself thrust further into the limelight as chairman of a committee entrusted with the delicate political task of revising the FIFA statutes.
Zwanziger became president of the German federation in 2006. At first, for diplomacy’s sake, he was joint president along with veteran Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder but once the World Cup had been concluded Zwanziger took full control.
Indeed, such is the nature of Zwanziger’s rising star that he is being talked of as a possible future president of UEFA should Michel Platini eventually cross over to FIFA.
Hopefully, he can take the pressure.
By Keir Radnedge