No matter what one does for a living, we all face pressure: to perform, to improve, to make yourself indispensable, and hell, sometimes just to show up. While the pressures of being a professional footballer pale in comparisons to those of us with real jobs and real wages, they are pressures no less, and when the whole world knows how much you make and how much you're ostensibly worth, your life becomes a veritable fishbowl. Sure, the world doesn't rise and fall based on your ability to kick a ball, but if you take your job seriously then there is a pressure to live up to expectations, to prove naysayers wrong and to stay in the good graces of the fans who, in a sense, pay your salary.
For every Francesco Totti or Daniele De Rossi, guys who would have played for peanuts and just been happy to wear the shirt, there is a litany of high paid and low-driven mercenaries who are just in it for a paycheck, their reputations be damned. They don't care as long as the boss cuts that check.
And then there is someone like Patrik Schick. A young guy eager to make a name for himself, a quiet kid who just goes about his business on the pitch for the love of the game not for self-aggrandizement. Thanks to his innate talent, it was inevitable that Schick would take his talents to a brighter stage, to a bigger club, one that could inflate his value, his salary and, if he let them, his ego.
Schick's mega money move to Roma in the summer of 2017 made him the priciest player in club history, a total that will vault to €42 million come February—a total that the entire Romaverse greeted with shock and awe that summer, and a total that demanded nothing short of instant stardom.
Even during his lowest moments in a Roma shirt, Patrik Schick still demanded your attention when he was on the ball. Someone so tall and so lanky shouldn't be able to glide so smoothly, but he did. And it was precisely that gazelle-like agility that gave us so much hope throughout all his trials and travails over these past two years, tests that will now be conducted in Leipzig.
We may still see Patrik Schick in a Roma shirt next season, but the 23-year-old Czech recently opened up about his time in Rome:
I never felt completely happy in Rome, so I think it was the right move. I really needed a change of scenery. We weren’t sure until the last minute if this move was going to go through, so I was ready to join Leipzig, but also prepared in case I had to stay at Roma and fight for my place in the team.
Edin Dzeko told me that going to Leipzig would be a good decision, as he’s played in Germany. I took everything into account, from their style of football to their position in the table and Champions League participation.
I have heard talk about their Coach, Julian Negelsmann, and he plays the kind of football I appreciate. I’ve also been told he is very personable.
It’ll be a real change, because Roma played a very slow type of football, so it was difficult to break down organised defences. It’ll be different at Leipzig, as their football is fast and aggressive.
I wouldn’t say I ran away from Roma, but I did need a change and it was the right move for my career. It’s difficult to say why it didn’t work out, but there are many factors. It was a difficult start in a new adventure without pre-season training, then injuries, the big expectations, which unfortunately I did not entirely fulfil, plus the pressure I was playing under, it all made me feel trapped.
I'm not sure about you, but I've worked in places in which I wasn't entirely happy; it's depressing, it's draining and it does make you feel trapped. To us, Roma may be everything, but if Schick wasn't happy there, then no amount of money can take away that pit in your stomach when you wake up, or that feeling of dread when you pull into the parking lot in the morning. Rather than being a source of enrichment, your work becomes a prison from which there is no escape.
Schick isn't completely absolved of blame here of course; he just wasn't good enough when he needed to be, but to see a response so measured and so reflective from a kid all of 23-years-old is pretty impressive.
We may never know when he realized it, but Roma just wasn't the right fit for him, but because he was a professional he was prepared to make the best of it, and when other options became available, he did his research, he talked to his peers, and made the decision he felt was right—and believe me, that's a lot harder than it sounds.
There's a huge part of me that hopes he succeeds and becomes a runaway success in the Bundesliga, but there's another part of me that hopes he returns to Roma, because the player he can be is exceptional.