JEREMY WISTEN: Are footballers given enough support by their clubs?
Teenager Jeremy Wisten, who took his own life nearly two years after he was released by Manchester City, did not feel he received the “right support” from the club after being let go, an inquest has heard.
The 18-year-old, signed by the Premier League champions at the age of 13, was found hanged at his family home in Wythenshawe, Manchester, on October 24 last year.
The Malawi-born centre-back, who wished to emulate his idol, Vincent Kompany, sustained ligament damage to his left knee in January 2018 that kept him from playing for five months.
Later that year, in December 2018, a decision was made by City’s academy to release him, Manchester Coroner’s Court was told.
Giving evidence at Monday’s hearing, his father, Manila, said his son failed to find a new club after City let him go and he thought the two main factors were the injury and a lack of support from the club.
City’s academy director, Jason Wilcox, a former England international, told Manchester Area Coroner Zak Golombeck that the injury played no part in the decision and that, as far he knew, information would have been passed to the youngster and his family about his footballing career options.
Wisten said: “He personally did not believe he was receiving the right support at Manchester City to find a new club.”
The family agreed he should concentrate on his forthcoming GCSE exams rather than attend a Premier League residential course in April 2019 but he said that, following the exams, there was “really nothing much going on in trying to get a new club”.
He said there was interest shown by Bolton and Cardiff, and an email was sent to all clubs in the country that contained video footage, but he explained that contained no meaningful action from 2018 because his son was injured for most of the time.
Wisten said: “I don’t think that was a marketing video, I think that was a ticking of the box. It is a case that City should have done more, I know they have done more for others.”
He said he was assured City would arrange matches in which his son would play and clubs would come to watch but that did not happen, he said, and the family used an agent to arrange meetings with clubs themselves.
Wisten said his son had “ups and downs in mood” following his injury but he handled the City release with maturity and retained his passion for football as he stayed friends with team-mates.
He said the teenager had no history of mental health problems and his family had no concerns in the weeks leading up to his death. He had recently completed application forms for university, where he wished to study forensic science, he added.
The hearing, also attended by Jeremy’s mother, Grace, sister, Angela, and a number of his friends, was told the teenager was found hanging in his sister’s bedroom, where he often studied, and was locked from the inside.
Wisten said: “I, 100 per cent, believe that Jeremy did not plan to kill himself.”
Friends of Jeremy described him as “intelligent, very mature” and someone who they would look to for guidance and advice.
Wilcox told the inquest that the grade 2 MCL tear that Jeremy suffered was a “significant injury” but not career-threatening.
He said: “The injury would have had no impact on our decision whatsoever. We based our decision on long-term potential.
“We make the right decision for the boy. There have been times where I have released a player for the benefit of the player rather than the benefit of Manchester City.”
He said he had “sleepless nights” about such meetings where young footballers are told they are being released because “I genuinely care”.
Asked by the coroner how Jeremy reacted to the news, Wilcox said: “He was very quiet, very non-emotional at the time.
“All the boys react differently when they are given the news. They feel at that moment that their career is over and it is certainly not. It’s the a start of a new journey for them.”
He said it was his understanding that Jeremy was offered nine trials at various clubs and that the youngster underwent mental health screening at the club in 2018 and 2019 with a sports psychologist which raised no concerns.
Wilcox said: “Jeremy was always very quiet, very unassuming, polite and we never had a minute’s problem with him.”
He said it would have been “extremely negligent” not to review the club’s process in the light of Jeremy’s death and try to make improvements which had led to the introduction of player exit surveys and the creation of a “parent portal”.
Recording a conclusion of suicide, Golombeck said: “I find, on the balance of probabilities, that Jeremy took his own life and intended to do so.”
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