“After everything I’ve been through, I’m now playing for Schalke in the Bundesliga – anything is possible in football,” said overjoyed vice-captain Victor Pálsson in an interview with “Spiegel” after Schalke’s promotion to the Bundesliga.
It’s almost a miracle that the 31-year-old Icelander still does professional sports at all. Pálsson divides his career “in two halves: from 2007 to 2014 and from then until now”. Despite severe strokes of fate in his childhood, he made it into the youth team of Liverpool FC. Pálsson signed his first professional football contract when he was 16.
A year later, he began drinking alcohol regularly, going to parties, and gambling to distract himself. “My childhood had caused me a lot of trauma. I grew up in an environment of addicted people, so my father and mother left me alone,” explained Pálsson. His deep sporting fall finally began with his move to the USA. In New York “every day could be a Saturday if I wanted it to be”.
The then 21-year-old now not only used alcohol at the weekend, but also “increasedly during the week”. “Alcohol suddenly gave me not just a fun time, but a disconnection from my inner self. It became a way of constantly avoiding reality and my feelings. I couldn’t face the conflicts and pain of my difficult childhood, so I reached for the glass. Drinking was a form of escape,” says Pálsson. If he drank, then until the film broke.
He never drank alcohol before games. “If we had a day off, I’d drink up and drink the next day so I wouldn’t have to admit how wrong I was,” Pálsson said.
After spending Christmas 2013/14 in his native Iceland, Pálsson suddenly didn’t want to return to his former club Nijmegen in the Netherlands. “I was mentally exhausted and didn’t feel like myself anymore. I had suicidal thoughts a lot that year. So I went to a psychological clinic, where I attended therapy sessions with a doctor every day,” says Pálsson.
Nijmegen were relegated during the season and made it clear to Pálsson: ‘We don’t want you here anymore!’ He was now known in the football world as a drunk and a constant source of trouble and was therefore of little interest to other clubs. Until the Swedish Helsingborgs IF Pálsson invited him to a meeting.
He joined a support group for families of alcoholics and says he hasn’t “touched a drop of alcohol” since that summer. Pálsson was given a three-month trial contract, impressed again on the pitch and landed a long-term contract with the Swedish club.
The decision to seek professional help was instrumental in his return to sporting success. Pálsson has now been living in Germany for three and a half years and calls on society to be even more open to mental problems and depression.
“England is a lot further on this point,” he says, adding: “You can’t show any weakness here (Germany). I heard about the Robert Enke case and that not much has changed since then. But I can’t rate that because I wasn’t here then. In general, I think it’s good that more and more professionals are opening up internationally.”
Vice-captain Pálsson played for Schalke in 28 of 34 second division games. “This rise was the greatest moment in my career,” he enthused, even days after the championship party.
Throughout his professional career, Pálsson changed clubs at least every two years. Now it remains for him to wish that he has finally found a sporting home at Schalke.
Soccer, Formula 1, tennis and more in a sports package