Sam Hutchinson's tragic, but also uplifting story should be familiar to Chelsea fans.
Once a highly promising prospect, youth and reserves team captain, and England youth international, he was on the verge of stardom as a teenager already, making his Chelsea debut at 17, under Mourinho Mk.I as a substitute on the final day of the 2006-07 season and joining the team for several pre-season tours afterwards.
Then, injuries struck. Sam struggled on for over two years with chronic knee problems before retiring just a few days after turning 21 in 2010. Chelsea of course always take care of our own. Sam, having been with the club since age 7, took on several roles behind the scenes, including coaching and Chelsea TV duties, even.
Miraculously, after a year out, Hutchinson decided to return to the game, re-signing with Chelsea and featuring couple times in 2011-12, including his first Premier League start, again on the final day of the season. Injuries were still a concern, but he soldiered on while hitting the loan circuit and eventually finding success at Sheffield Wednesday in the second half of the 2013-14 season. That summer he joined The Owls on a permanent basis, eventually becoming a key member of the squad. This season, with Wednesday pushing for Premier League promotion, Sam, now 26, has started the vast majority of games either at center back or defensive midfield. He even scored against Arsenal in the League Cup as Wednesday recorded a famous 3-0 upset.
All's well that ends well, right?
In a way, yes. But for the first time, Sam Hutchinson has opened up about the mental hell he went through in addition to his debilitating injuries. It's a reminder that while we often worry about the physical health of players, mental health is often just as, if not even more important. And there's hardly ever any talk about that.
"It was horrible. I was very depressed. I couldn't sleep. I went to see doctors at The Priory* to speak about it for six months, being brutally honest. I didn't speak to my mum, dad or my sisters for maybe a year and I fell out with them."
"It was horrific and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. You have to get through that and to be fair my wife Jennifer got me through it. We got married in that time, we had kids and it got better."
"I suffered with depression through it because you're taking away something that I have done since I was seven, am here to do and would struggle to do anything else."
Our understanding of clinical depression is still far from complete, and the way we deal with (or don't, as it were) is an issue that's largely unexplored, especially in the tough, macho world of sports. Every once in a while we get a reminder, such as this interview with Hutchinson, or, say Robert Enke — if you want to read an important, brilliant, yet incredibly sad book, do read 'A Life Too Short' — but beyond that, we say, buck up, son. What's wrong with you? Get your head in the game.
And that's without even getting into the issue of life after retirement, which is something that many professional athletes struggle with on a daily basis.
"The pain subsided somewhat but at the end of the day, I was programmed to do it. I will continue to do it until I can't run. It's an addiction. I mean addiction as an addiction to playing in front of a crowd. I'm a little bit of a showman and I need that to feel self-worth and things like that."
"I spoke to people about it when I was dealing with doctors and it is a massive part. I think that's why a lot of people struggle after football because they have a massive void in their life."
"I don't think enough is done. There are campaigns to deal with depression after football but I think a lot more could be done. It takes players and people who have experienced it to speak about it and speak to people about it for it to get solved."
"Fans don't realise why you're affected on the pitch and why your performance goes down. They just think you are robots who should play to a certain level. But they don't realise you have other things going on in your life. And that gets you more depressed because your form goes and then you spiral out of control."
Fortunately, Sam seems to have things under control. He's enjoying football, enjoying the competition (which might even result in promotion!), enjoying life. Just as it should be.
"You have to speak to people and you have to be open. I pushed people away for a little bit but you need people around you, even if you don't want to see them and you're horrible to them, you need them because they are the ones that care. I am in a great place and that has something to do with my two little kids who are my world."
"I've grown up since I did interviews about it before. I was very closed off and used to give the same generic answers. I always thought people wouldn't want to hear about it - why would they care?"
"There are underlying issues that need to be fixed in people to make them happier. I've got to a place where I am happy and I feel that I can speak freely about what happened. It should be the same for anyone else going through the same thing."
-Sam Hutchinson; source: The Sun
* The Priory is "the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK". To learn more about their services, and the depression help, support and counselling services they provide, be sure to visit their website.