Empaths were few and far between after Thomas Tuchel revealed that Andreas Christensen had withdrawn himself for selection on the morning of Chelsea’s FA Cup Final defeat against Liverpool due to his nerves getting the better of him.
Former Aston Villa striker Stan Collymore realised that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, deciding to instantly assassinate the Danish defender’s character in his exclusive column for the Mirror. “No matter what industry someone works in, there is a clear line between behaving professionally or like an amateur and on Saturday, Christensen fell into the latter category.”
Collymore was accompanied by fellow former-Liverpool player Jose Enrique, who took to Instagram to touch on a story about how Christensen’s last-minute call to opt out of the cup final left his teammates in shock. The ex-pro went on to put the Chelsea man on blast: “I don’t know if this is true or not, but if this is true, [it] is incredible how a player will do that. You are still under a contract. You are in a f***ing* final. Don’t do it for you, but for your teammates, the club and the fans that [have] been supporting you the whole way.”
Conclusions were jumped to, and yet another footballer was painted with a broad brush as being an out-of-touch, unprofessional prima donna that couldn’t be bothered to turn up to work. Despite former Blues boss Maurizio Sarri revealing as far back as in 2019 that the 26-year-old tends to experience stomach cramps before games out of sheer nervousness, two former pros — who know how it feels to have misinformed assumptions dictate perceptions of them in the public eye — chose to become the same kind of monsters who once targeted them for the sake of a headline.
While it still remains unknown whether Christensen has yet been diagnosed with an anxiety-related condition, is this mere label the difference between empathy and vilification? Is it not okay for footballers — regardless of their often much-maligned privilege — not to be okay for once? Clearly, the answer is still a heartbreakingly resounding no, as Dane’s social media was flooded with comments mocking his admission of his feelings to Tuchel, as well as vile homophobic slurs that need no further explanation.
It is imperative to remind the reader that conversations around mental health in football are no longer as much of a taboo in 2022, and that is a victory we must never take for granted. But in order to truly be on board of this collective movement to incite change, one must strip things back to the fundamental principle of humanising footballers. To understand that, despite Christensen having the opportunity of representing his team in a game of the stature of the FA Cup Final, a bank account that has probably set him up for life, and most likely your dream car, that doesn’t make him any less of a human being.
While Jose Enrique may find it reasonable to expect his fellow professional to put on the façade of a happy face for the sake of a cup final, one can’t begin to unpack what an appallingly toxic piece of advice that is. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world for Trevoh Chalobah to slot in for Andreas Christensen; but for the latter to battle his personal demons while simultaneously fighting to validate the weight of the world’s expectations comes pretty close to it. There’s an endless list of things that are bigger than football: they are not robotic entertainers whose life’s sole purpose is to be indebted to the fan.
Ultimately, football players are not infallible. They do not begin and end with the fans’ perceptions of them. The Premier League and football as a whole’s attempts at addressing mental health as an essential talking point through campaigns and workshops are commendable, to say the least. But as we’ve seen with the onslaught of abuse hurled towards Christensen, the issue does not merely stem from being ill-equipped about a topic as vast as mental wellbeing, it also comes from football fans’ unfortunate tendency to dehumanise footballers. As simplistic as it may read, society’s most pertinent problems that will exist even after we’re dead and buried are a result of the inability amongst many to just be better at being human.
Once we go back to the basics and tick them off, Andreas Christensen will most likely feel in a safe space for sharing how he feels, as the footballing world prays for his peace of mind above everything else.