Thomas Delaney has lived a large portion of his life on the football field. He found his love for the sport in the hometown of Frederiksberg and set a goal to turn his passion into a career. At twenty-two he was awarded the honourable title of captain for his native club FC Copenhagen and has not looked back since. This portrait examines memorable moments of Thomas Delaney’s career, the definition of success and finding tranquility on the field.
The skies are clearing up outside. Looking through the window, Thomas Delaney is drinking his morning coffee in his Dortmund residence, waiting for the schedule of the day. Until a couple of weeks ago, his life had been planned down to the smallest detail. Since the age of fourteen, his training, social activity and even his diet had been arranged weeks in advance. Now he is uncertain of the programme of tomorrow. “Nobody knows anything. The club, the communal government, no one.” He announces over the phone. But even though his life has been turned upside down, he seems positive.
Delaney has always been certain about his commitment to his sport. It always starts as a hobby, he claims as he looks back on his early days, running around the field with his friends back in Frederiksberg. However, his dedication has always pushed him forward. Delaney was not shy to put in the extra hours to get ahead of his peers. While he sacrificed countless hours and a great deal of freedom during his adolescence, Delaney has never doubted his course. He never lost anything. Not in the big picture. He kept his friends close, and even though his schedule was barely compatible with the average youthful lifestyle, they never neglected him. That has meant a lot.
When you choose a career as an athlete, time itself changes and morphs into a cycle of training sessions and matches. Days blur into each other with endless programmes and repetition, and your horizon is always the next match. It cultivates a certain type of tunnel vision and restlessness, that suddenly feels odd, when you are a pulled out of your routine and forced to examine it from the outside. Breaks and holidays are often hard to come by. “I have always carried a slight envy towards people who are able to take a weekend off. To rid yourself of the expectations of the outside world for a couple of days. Yet, I am aware that this intermission is partly an illusion, but any way!” he answers, when asked about the sacrifices he has made along his career.
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Nonetheless, Delaney has never missed out on life. Even as he has come to perceive football as more of a job and a profession, his love for the sport has never faded. He still feels the electrifying rush of dopamine when putting on his jersey, as he is running onto the field. The sense of excitement that sparked his interested as a child, has now given him a certain type of patience, that allows him to mentally postpone many of the colloquial joys that seem to collide with his current schedule. There will be time for everything. The career within professional sport is often short and explosive, leaving plenty of time to retreat and catch up on life.
When asked about his view on the concept of success, Delaney gave a clear answer. “Success is abstract and highly reflective. It is personal and varies from person to person. Fundamentally, success is finding the place that makes you happy” he proclaimed. It did not take long for Delaney to find this place himself. From a young age, he was able to define his goal and set the perimeters for his own success. He wanted to become the captain of his native football club FC Copenhagen. By the age of twenty-two, he accomplished his goal. But he chose to not rest on his laurels. Every time you progress, your ambition moves in tandem. You continue to set the bar higher. In the beginning, it is simply establishing a career and proving your success to yourself. Then it becomes more immaterial. The personal aspects of acknowledgement and self-development quickly takes center. You desire a feeling of significance – that you make a difference in the game.
One of the defining moments of Delaney’s career, was the first time his performance was noticed by Morten Olsen, the head coach of the Danish national team. Denmark was playing Sweden in the qualifying round of the European championship in 2016, and Delaney was part of the starting team. He plays the first half, but a strained ligament forces him off the field in the beginning of the second. Nonetheless, this was the first time, where he felt like he contributed to the development of the match. A feeling of cohesion and clarity, he had never before experienced as part of the national team. Before the match, his relationship with national team football had been mostly complicated. He felt split into two separate characters; the dominant center from FC Copenhagen and the unproven, hesitant rookie from the national team. Yet, this event changed something. His two characters converged, and he felt like he became a more coherent player. Fundamentally, playing for the national team is a vastly different experience than playing for a club. The public interest is very special and there is something else at stake. Also, preparation is extremely demanding, as the time you spend with your fellow players is highly restricted. There is little time to develop routine and play style, and the time leading up to a match is always intense. Developing your position on the national team is a complicated task, and it can take years of practice.
While this occurred, Delaney went through a surging development within FC Copenhagen. Under the supervision of Ariel Jacobs, the former club head coach, he grew professionally and intellectually. He had always been strong hearted, but through thorough cultivation of his abilities in letting go of failure and negative comments, he developed an almost stoic composure. Quickly assuming a mentoring role, Ariel gave Delaney a piece of advice that would shape him on a philosophical level. “Every time you're about to get angry, you have to restrain yourself. Anger is an irrational force. You can only allow yourself the liberty of anger, when you are not angry anymore." These words rang a bell within Delaney. Shortly after, he began to shed his youthful temperament. To regulate his emotions and not succumb to irrationality. “You have to act, rather than react.” he declares as he admits that most of his emotional bravado on the field is acting for the audience. Control is fundamental, no matter the discipline.
According to Delaney, Ariel was quite a controversial figure, especially in his approach to mental coaching. Following days of defeat, where the solidarity and unity of the team had collapsed, he would go out and address the media to take blame and bear the responsibility for results of the match, justifying our failure with misguided tactical decisions from his part. Solely to take the psychological pressure of the outside world away from the players. Even though judgement and criticism can be difficult to accept, you have to be able to keep your head high if you want to grow in this game. Nevertheless, Delaney confesses that he is more or less untouched by people’s opinion of him. He has always kept his family and friends close, and formed a base with his girlfriend, who has supported him throughout his entire career. “You have to keep a steady home front” He says, quoting Sir Alex Ferguson, former head coach of football club Manchester United.
Mildly speaking, the past couple of weeks have been strange. The European championship has been rescheduled, and the vacuum left by this conclusion is ubiquitous. However, since the beginning, the situation has clearly improved. While in the midst of the initial chaos, our training consisted of individual coaching, but lately we have advanced into groups of six. Beside the professional aspect, the crisis has had a sweeping impact on our personal lives. It is hard to find a footing. To find something to hold on to. Delaney misses his home in the boroughs of Frederiksberg. He misses venturing out into the summer nights with his old friends for a beer at the local shop. Fortunately, it does not seem so far away.