When top-level footballers discuss a period early in their careers that helped shape them, they usually talk about a loan spell or a surprise call-up.
For Per Mertesacker, though, it came when he spent a year working part-time in a psychiatric hospital - an invaluable time that helped him “see the world in a different way”.
“When I finished school, I had to serve the country either in the military or by doing a social year,” he told Arsenal Player. “I decided to do a social year while I was playing football, so the club had a few links with mental hospitals and I chose one of those and they offered that I can train in the morning and serve in the afternoon and help people out.
“At first I thought, ‘Can I deal with that? Can I deal with people not knowing me?’ but they just needed help to get food, to go to the toilet, to go to bed, to get dressed, everything. They just needed 24/7 help.
“But I felt like I could handle it and the most important part was I felt I could work in the morning and go there and do my job and serve the country, but serve the patients as well and see what it’s about when you really struggle with your life.
“It kept me going and kept me seeing the world in a different way, a totally different way, so when you experience first-hand what it’s about, when you really struggle, when you really need help from other people, it keeps you down to earth… that was a humbling experience for me.
“When I look back to that time, that was a really healthy balance for me to grow and to see what it means on the one hand living in a world of highlights, in a world of beauty and people recognising you, people showing up for a game with 40,000 fans in the stands, and then on the other hand the hidden guys who need 24/7 help and do not recognise you.
“I think that was the best experience I had. That really kept me going, growing not only as a person but as a footballer.”
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