Could Jesus Navas and Alex Buttner develop a friendship that helps them overcome their homesickness?
Following the news that Manchester City had signed Jesus Navas from Sevilla, one fact followed the player from article to article more than any other.
Navas was a signing with risk involved, because he was a player who suffered from something you can’t pick up in a medical – homesickness.
A condition we too often assume as affecting only the young, it was so severe in the case of the Spaniard that it blighted both his international and his domestic career.
For years Navas rejected chances to play for Spain because he couldn’t bear to be away from his home. While anxiety attacks forced him to leave training camps – on one occasion his family needing to collect him from a base just one hour from Seville.
That was the place he called home, his club Sevilla based less than 20 miles from his birthplace. And in an age when pre-season tours cover the length and breadth of the world, Navas invariably stayed at home.
His was a name that often appeared in gossip columns. And yet he was never going to move. His condition made it impossible; which is why his summer switch to Manchester City – after a decade at Sevilla – is both a welcome shock and proof that even the most crippling cases of homesickness can be overcome.
Counselling has helped the winger to control his anxiety. And yet as the new season draws ever closer, and the reality of Navas’s move sinks in, one wonders how he will cope with a decision that for many years seemed impossible.
But he may find an unexpected ally not far from his new club. Because around the time that Navas’s arrival was confirmed, another Manchester-based player spoke out about his own homesickness.
What once was unspoken had suddenly become a chapter in an open book.
Manchester United’s Alexander Buttner played with a confidence and exuberance that belied the fact that he was considering leaving. He may not have played many games in the face of Patrice Evra’s return to form, but when he did, he thrived. It was clear this was a move the Dutchman wished to grasp with both hands.
Except behind the scenes he was suffering, to such an extent that he considered returning to his homeland.
It was only the support of his family that prompted him to stay – a man who was used to a very different lifestyle having grown up in Holland on a travellers’ camp.
And so as both Navas and Buttner face a new season away from home, the greatest of rivals could do worse than become the best of friends. They may be able to support each other off the pitch just as their club obligations will distract them on it.
And perhaps their openness and their ability – in their own different ways – to overcome their homesickness may prompt others to speak about it should it ever arise.
Most of us think of football as the dream; a life spent playing the game they love. But perhaps we should also consider the other side, the loneliness, the distance from loved ones and familiarity.
Navas and Buttner may never say a single word to each other off the football pitch. But perhaps they should. After all, they already have more in common than most.
image: © Gabrielcorbachobermejo