“It’s also true of Carver; you read his books and they’re almost banal, but internally something strange is left behind…”
Esteban Granero, a £9 million signing for QPR in 2012, reveals his love of literature and interest in the human psyche. Via empathy with Gregor Samsa, he discusses the pressures faced by young footballers today, and the strange machines built to help with the strain.
Ivan Campo suffered anxiety attacks after signing for Real Madrid, Gerard was terrorised by the idea of not reaching the level he’d previously attained at Valencia after re-signing for Barcelona. Valeron had depression at Atletico, Giner, whilst at Valencia, used to go through feelings of extreme guilt for each goal his team conceded…
These kinds of situations are normal. 95% of footballers at the highest level have known them well. I have on several occasions. It’s natural, it’s a sport that comes with great demands, where not one mistake is acceptable on the pitch. If you add to that the iconic status that footballers have, and that they are even held up as examples to children, responsible for their education, it creates a position of great stress which, in certain cases, can blow up completely. Some footballers deal with it, others never can.
At Real Madrid, there isn’t a psychologist for the first team, yet there is in the youth team.
In the youth team there are three. I used to get on well with two of them. We used to have sessions four or five times a year. There would be group sessions and individual ones in which they would explain what they had observed in each of us throughout the year. Then they’d do a follow up with psychological tests. They’d especially evaluate your motivation, mental fatigue, reactions to a stressful situation. When you’re young, you often have feelings of great responsibility towards not only your team but your family, your friends. The psychologists wanted to know how we dealt with that.
A little later on, one of the fitness coaches at Real, Walter Di Salvo, brought back a machine designed for ‘mental exercise’ from Massachusetts. It it still there?
Yes, but it doesn’t work any more. I tried it before, just out of curiosity. I don’t know how effective it is. It’s a machine that increases or decreases mental activity through the display of images and sounds of varying sizes and volume.
There are also many footballers, big stars, who are well known for their eccentric personalities, some perhaps even for their quite manic behaviour. Does madness help in football?
Yes, absolutely. I’d go as far to so that these kind of players couldn’t exist any other way; there isn’t a ‘nice guy’ version of a Balotelli, it’s impossible to change a character like that beyond the age of, say 25 years. There’s also the genetic aspect of one’s temperament. I’m not saying that it makes you a better footballer, but I couldn’t imagine Magico Gonzalez [El Salvador’s Maradona] going to bed at 10pm, getting up and having breakfast and going to the game. The same for George Best or Maradona. People say, they should’ve taken better care of themselves. Why? People should enjoy what they can see before them, that’s enough.
How’s your Masters in psychology going?
I’m making progress, bit by bit, without getting too stressed and I’m enjoying it. My first year went really well, but because of my job and the kind of hours that a comes with it, I had to go to a private university. But I’ve made loads of friends.
As a future psychologist, do you see many potential study cases in those around you?
For me, the whole football world is a school. Real Madrid is a better school than any university for psychology. I’ve gotten advice from Casillas, from Raul, Guti and I’ve been able to observe. I would have really loved to have observed how Xavi Alonson responds to stress.
Your position as a footballer means you’re something of an example…
Ah, no I categorically refuse this position! I reject it. I’m a footballer, my job is to play football and I have to do it well. But I’m not an example for others, and I shouldn’t be, no more than a singer or an actor should be. It’s the responsibility of a parent to educate his/her children, not sportsmen.
You’ve published several photos on Twitter, of several books, by Valle-Inclna, Maupassant, Gil de Biedma, Bukowski, Carver, Kafka, Miguel Hernandez… Have you read them all?
Yes. The one by Valle-Inclan, is really good but you have to get used to his style. I had to read it with a dictionary.
Xavi Alonso says you’re a real Kafka nut…
He says that because he saw me with one of his books once, on a journey. Kafka’s one of those authors who’s extremely difficult to stop reading. Because he turns you over, when you’ve put the book down, you feel something missing. It’s also true of Carver; you read his books and they’re just simple stories, almost banal, but actually, internally, something strange is left behind… After Metamorphosis, I developed a real anxiety, even though I’d been fine while reading it. Bukowski, on the other hand, is the opposite; realism pure and hard. What’s good, is that you end up believing everything happened exactly as he tells it. That his alter ego, Henry Chinaski, is real. You can identify with him, even though he’s kind of a loser. Admire him even.
You’re tastes are in contrast to those of Xavi Alonso, who prefers Noir.
I like Noir too. But what I really like is a good book. And the classics, well I always say that they’re classics for a reason.
You’re also a fan of Haruki Murakami I believe. Have you seen Norwegian Wood?
I’ve seen the film, yes. It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. The book made a real impression on me. I read it when I was 18. The kind of thing that helps you to grow up. Like Catcher in the Rye, something to point you in the right direction.
This interview appeared in So Foot #100 in October 2012, and was conducted by Alvaro Corazon Rural, for Jot Down where it was first published. It was translated from the Spanish into French by Frédéric Losada.
A link to the original Spanish interview can be found here: