Mertesacker ‘struggling mentally’ last season

Ex-Arsenal captain Per Mertesacker says he felt “relieved” when he was not selected last season because he was “struggling mentally”.

Mertesacker, who retired at the end of the 2017-18 season, told the the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire Show it felt “great” to end his playing career.

“Especially in my last year, I felt something and felt the pressure and it was very awkward sometimes,” he said.

“I was happy about not necessarily playing, just training was enough for me.”

The former centre-half was speaking about his mental health at the launch of a project in which Arsenal have teamed up with Save the Children to help traumatised child refugees at a camp in Jordan.

In March, Mertesacker told German publication Der Spiegel that the stress of playing induced nausea and diarrhoea.

Repeating his claim that football caused him anxiety, he said: “Being in a career and going from highlight to highlight and playing a lot of matches you go through it and think it’s normal when you play in front of 60,000 and you almost want to vomit in front of every game.

“It’s not right playing these games to have that fear about what’s going on with me. The fact that I actually felt better after saying ‘I’m going to stop’, I had less pain.”

Mertesacker, who was part of Germany’s 2014 World Cup-winning squad and won 104 caps for his country, featured just 12 times for Arsenal last season and has since become the club’s academy manager.

He believes speaking about his emotional wellbeing will help him empathise with the young players he now works with.

“It helps to get a connection even to young players because everyone has a story, everyone goes through something and to speak about your feelings is difficult,” he said.

“I think it opens up and it gives them kind of a platform to think ‘oh, he’s been great. He has been a professional player for 15 years. But still. He suffered. He’s suffered and battled fear and still made it’ – so to talk about it definitely helps.

“As we all know, we’re talking about elite sports, we’re talking a lot in a very challenging environment as well. We cannot neglect to care about these kids and preparing them for life.”