Marvin Sordell is more than a footballer.
He's a writer, he's a filmmaker, he's a cook (sometimes), and he's an advocate for helping players deal with any mental health struggles they face – before they face them.
For a while though, he was...a footballer. And only a footballer. Sordell, who has contributed to BT Sport film State of Play, told 90min this week: "One of the biggest issues I had was that football was who I was, my job was who I was. My emotions followed every up and down in training or games – I might have a bad touch and I'd feel shit, I'd score a goal and I'd feel amazing.
"I'd be questioned a lot on social media, things like 'Why are you not playing? I heard you're not trying hard enough,' and it felt like every attack on my ability was an attack on my personality and character. Over time that chipped away, with some other unresolved issues, and it all snowballed. I got to the point a few years later where I tried to commit suicide."
"A lot of players either gamble or play video games, neither of those are very productive."
His experiences with depression led him to reevaluate how he saw himself outside of football – he describes it as 'trying to remove his emotional self from being tied to his job' – and using his downtime to develop a new sense of self.
"A lot of players either gamble or play video games, neither of those are very productive. If you have the resources (which most players do) and the time (which every football player has), then the emphasis should be on making that as productive as possible. You can't physically train all day. You have to rest. But that doesn't mean you can't place some strain on your mind for an hour or two a day.
"If you have a bad day at training, if you have something to throw yourself into you'll stop thinking about training and you'll come back the next day refreshed and coming in with a clear mind."
While Sordell admits that football's changing rooms have evolved with society, 'progressive' in the way players support each other, he talks passionately about what he feels are the shortcomings of the current system.
"The support is there for once a player has gone through problems," he explains. "I think the issue now that I have is that there isn't anything in place to prevent players from going down that path.
"We should be seeing this at an early stage, stopping players having to make that phone call to Sporting Chance, the PFA or potentially trying to commit suicide. Speaking to the players, pulling them aside and saying 'let's pick you back up, build you back up and let's go again' rather than 'you're broken, let's fix you'.
"Retirement is such a dirty word in football, players avoid it like the plague."
"I think every single club in the Football League – maybe lower – should have a counsellor or mental health professional on staff who's independent – not employed by the clubs, so the players feel that they can speak to them without the risk of it being used against them. I've heard from players I've spoken to that they've confided in their clubs and it's been used against them later down the line."
Sordell is 28 now, and already starting to think about life after football – something that precious few players will contemplate, unless it means getting their coaching badges and staying in football.
"I love cooking, so when I was younger that was a serious route that I was considering if football didn't turn out how I wanted it to. Most football players retire at 35, and you're starting out at the same place as someone who's just finished university – except they've got a qualification and they're younger.
"Retirement is such a dirty word in football, players avoid it like the plague. I've had conversations with a lot of players and most of the time it's 'I have no idea, I need to play football for as long as possible because I don't know what I'm going to do.'
"There needs to be a bigger emphasis on education throughout football. A lot of football players leave school at 14, 15, and what chance does that give them later? Football may or may not work out, you don't know at that age, and it's inevitable that you'll have a life beyond playing football. The mentality around football needs to change."
Currently playing for Burton Albion in League One – seven years on from being part of Great Britain's Olympic squad – Sordell has a number of irons in his own personal fire. "I'll be helping with players' transitions, and I've launched a production company because I love to write and be involved with telling stories in different ways.
"TV, advertising, branding, music videos, I love to be able to be creative in telling stories. We just launched last week actually, we're called 180 Productions. We're doing a campaign with the charity CALM, and potentially a documentary with BT Sport."
State of Play, the next film in the award-winning BT Sport Films series, will premiere at 10.30pm on Wednesday May 29th on BT Sport 2
Source : 90min