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How Westminster Can Make Britain a Digital Currencies Leader

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Few sights call to mind tradition as impressively as the Palace of Westminster – rising above the capital as a symbol of endurance and steadfastness throughout the centuries. A peculiar ally then, you may think, for the cutting edge technologies of digital currency, which have so much potential to disrupt the established order. Are politicians ready to back this technological revolution?

My invitation to a dinner debate in the House of Commons, hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Digital Currencies and its Secretariat, the Digital Currency Foundation, seemed to partially answer that question. Attended by industry experts and leaders, the dinner gave us the chance to talk to parliamentarians about the exciting possibilities for collaboration between lawmakers and innovators, and for a global digital currencies market with Britain at its forefront.

That is not to say that a consensus was reached on what a digital currency friendly UK would look like, or how we might get there. Industry representatives were eloquent but frank regarding the challenges ahead. A key area will be how digital currencies are able to interact with our traditional banking sector and hard currency. Without reliable mechanisms to convert digital currencies into conventional fiat currencies, including the pound, the digital market cannot realise its potential. Some digital currency leaders present felt that traditional banks were calculatingly disinclined to deal with innovators; do they fear disruption to their status quo, and if so, how might they be incentivised to relax their stance?

MPs showed enthusiasm, but were equally eager to probe industry on what the benefits were for their constituents. Average-earners for whom digital currencies are often just a passing news headline must be reassured that they are in fact for them: cost-saving, efficient, user-friendly and secure. The same goes for small businesses and start-ups, as the Government seeks a more diversified and decentralised national economy.

Parliamentarians pressed the industry firmly on their security commitments, and rightly so. Concerns have grown in all sectors regarding money-laundering as technological advances continue; the digital currency market is no different. Industry leaders pointed to proactive, voluntary security measures to combat this, but more can always be done. Here in particular, collaboration between currency exchanges and lawmakers could reap benefits for all stakeholders.

The debate perfectly encapsulated the digital currency landscape as it exists before us: one with challenges yet to overcome and enormous potential yet to be realised. No single group, whether industrial, academic or legislative can build this digital future in a vacuum; on-going collaboration is crucial.

It was reassuring to see that both innovators and politicians don’t just want the UK to keep pace with the digital currency revolution, but lead it. That is after all why we founded LEOcoin here. Together, great things can be achieved.

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Entertainment

Cardi B’s Chequered Outfit For Her SNL Performance

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We Love…

Cardi B’s chequered ensemble for her SNL performance on Saturday 7 April..

Why It Works:

The contrast between the green slicked hair and monochromatic colours in lycra and fur is bold and exactly what Cardi stands for.

Also Spotted On:

Bella Hadid has been seen wearing a chequered two piece with a thick Chanel belt in true ’90s fashion. 

Model, DJ and co-star of Rihanna’s ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ Video, Sita Abellan has worn a t-shirt underneath her lime green chequered bandeau showing how two pieces can be worn in cooler seasons.

Follow Their Lead

As seen above, chequered prints look great in all colours. For example, this orange pair of trousers by MissGuided for £22 is a new way to wear the print. Alternatively this House of Holland dress for £55 playfully adds cherries and checks together.

A way to make this look more wearable is this summer dress apt for picnic days courtesy of ASOS Curve for £25. Add a pair of statement sunglasses like these white rounded cat eye accessory via River Island, £14, and dance around to ‘Bodak Yellow’ and you can feel like you’re performing on SNL too.

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Entertainment

Political Parties And Advertisers Need To Be Held To Account: Here’s How

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Facebook gave Cambridge Analytica 87million people’s data. Are you one of them? The scale of the data collection involved means that the likelihood is you don’t know.

The Data Protection Bill is going to be an important step forward for your rights in this area – it brings the European General Data Protection Regulation into UK law, but the government have stripped it of a vital protection (Article 80(2)) and added an exemption for political parties – which make it a far smaller step forward than it should be.

Article 80(2)

Article 80 deals with redress, that is to say how you can get your revenge on companies that misuse your data – it has two clauses, one that lets you instruct an organisation, like ORG or Which?, to take on your case, and hold that company to account. That’s a mandatory part of the GDPR, but part two is optional.

This is the section that would allow an organisation that noticed bad data protection practices to hold the company in question to account without first having to find someone who had been affected.

Do you know if you were one of the people affected by Facebook’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica? Because if the answer is no, then organisations will find it that much harder to hold companies to account.

It doesn’t need to be this way, this style of protection already exists for other consumer issues, such as in Finance or Competition. As recent events have made clear a similar protection in data protection is vital. The Government have insisted that, it will be fine Article 80 (1) will be enough but that is categorically untrue.

By refusing to strengthen your data protection rights the government are making a conscious decision to make holding companies like Facebook to account harder.

Political Party Exemption

It gets worse – the government is also seeking to make political parties exempt from the rules. The Bill contains an exemption which allows political parties to process data revealing people’s political opinions if they are necessary for the purpose of organisation’s political activities.

This isn’t a new provision (it existed in the Data Protection Act 1998), but it hasn’t been updated since 1998. The world has changed, but this provision doesn’t acknowledge the massive shifts in technology.

This allows parties to take part in Cambridge Analytica style profiling and targeting of your political beliefs using all kinds of third party data without your explicit consent or knowledge.

As elections become increasingly data-driven we need more and better protections, not increasingly outdated ones, that fail to recognise the changing risks our democracy faces.

The Data Protection Bill is a huge opportunity to reign in companies like Facebook, and to ensure stronger data protections that are more able to deal with the world as it is now. But, as it stands, it is being wasted.

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Entertainment

Mum’s Overnight Time-Lapse Video Gives A Brutal Insight Into Sleeplessness When You Have Kids

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A mum has shared a time-lapse video of what happens through the night in her house, showing the brutal reality of why mums and dads get so little sleep.

On this night in particular, Melanie Darnell, who shares fitness and parenting posts on Instagram (Fit Momma of 3), had a two-year-old with an ear infection and a 10-month-old baby who struggled to sleep. She taped a camera to the ceiling to show others how her nights often go when her husband works away.

The video shows Darnell getting into bed alone at 10pm. Soon after, her 10-month-old joins her in bed. Fast forward several hours and her toddler is in bed with them too.  

“Parenting doesn’t end when the sun goes down,” she wrote on Instagram on 5 April. “It’s a tough balance. Realising that the last sweet hours of restful darkness are almost over. The 4am wake-up call is especially excruciating. Still, we haul ourselves out of bed, and with bleary eyes pull our babies in close.”

Darnell wanted to show other mothers who are struggling with sleep deprivation that they are not alone. “To all of the tired mothers out there, breathe in and breathe out,” she wrote. “These days are intense but short-lived. Both you and baby will be sleeping more soundly before long.

“For now, cuddle your babies, nurse them and love them no matter what time the clock says. The baby you rock tonight someday may have the opportunity to be gazing at the stars while holding a sweet baby of her own. She will be thinking of, and appreciating, you.”

Commenting on the video, which was viewed 1.2 million times in four days, one person wrote: “Ah that’s an amazing post. I needed to see that this morning after being awake all night.”

Another wrote: “Your video made me realise that no matter where we are from, all mothers are same and so kids are. I am an Asian and felt like it’s my video. Sending love to you.”

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Entertainment

‘Britain’s Got Talent’ Judges To Have Their Off-Air Asides Broadcast For The First Time Ever

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The ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ judges had better hope they’ve not been saying anything too terrible while filming this year’s auditions, as the conversations they have while still mic’d up are set to be made public. 

‘Britain’s Got More Talent’ host Stephen Mulhern has revealed the chats the judges have in between filming auditions will feature in the new series, as part of an attempt to embarrass them. 

Speaking to The Sun, he said: “The judges forget they are filmed 24/7 when they are on set, so we have all the footage of their conversations where they are gossiping between auditions.

“We’re going to use it to play a game. For example, we’ll repeat things they’ve said about other people such as, ‘She’s not really that nice in person’ and ask which one said it and who it was about.

“It’ll be like Russian Roulette, we’ll play it and see who they were talking about.”

He added: “It’s like they’ve never been on TV before, they know their microphone is on but they are still whispering.”

The panel of judges remains unchanged again this year, with Simon Cowell, Amanda HoldenAlesha Dixon and David Walliams all returning. 

On the presenting team, things are a little more complicated thanks to Ant McPartlin’s arrest for drink-driving and subsequent return to rehab. 

He and co-presenter Declan Donnelly had already filmed all the auditions prior to his arrest, but it remains unclear what producers have decided to do about the live shows.

It is highly unlikely Ant will be back on TV in the coming months, having stepped down from all commitments, with some reports claiming Dec will present the live shows by himself – as he has done on ‘Saturday Night Takeaway’, to rave reviews from fans. 

‘Britain’s Got Talent’ returns to ITV on Saturday (14 April) at 8pm on ITV. 

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Entertainment

‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em’ Set To Return With Joe Pasquale In Role Made Famous By Michael Crawford

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Joe Pasquale is set to revive one of comedy’s most famous characters in a reboot of the classic BBC sitcom, ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ’Em’.

The comic has revealed he’s bagged the rights to the show and will play the hapless Frank Spencer, famous for his line ‘Oooh Betty!’.

He said: “For two years I’ve been working closely with Ray to get this script where it is.”

He added that Raymond only got on board with the project because he believed Joe was the only person who could play Frank Spencer.

The sitcom made a brief comeback during 2016’s Sport Relief, which saw Michael Crawford reprising his role.

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Entertainment

Ex-Gang Members Demand MPs ‘Listen To People Who Know’ As Amber Rudd Unveils New Violent Crime Strategy

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London’s murder rate has overtaken New York’s.

Frontline experts in the fight against street violence say it’s time for the government to hand over the reins to “people who know what they are talking about”, as the number of serious incidents skyrockets. 

On Monday the Home Secretary Amber Rudd unveiled the government’s new £40m strategy for tackling violent crime, after denying having seen a leaked Home Office document linking the increase with police cuts made under the Conservative government.

The home secretary said changes to the drug market were largely to blame for the rise, and said the government’s response would also focus on tackling drug use. 

The much anticipated new plan proposes to restrict the online purchase of knives, give additional powers to police to crack down on people found to be carrying acid, and establish a cross-party group to help come up with “solutions” to violent crime escalation. 

The programme will also focus on community-led early intervention to prevent young people being drawn into gangs, with an £11m youth fund set up to support local projects, and £3.6m to tackle “county lines” drug distribution, which sees urban gangs use children as “couriers” to branch out into more rural areas.

But Labour has criticised the plan, claiming it offers no new money or extra police officers, and many grassroots campaigners are also sceptical, saying the time for politicians to be in charge of decision-making is over.

Sheldon Thomas, the founder of Gangsline, which runs outreach programmes with young men and women involved in gang culture, said ministers should hand over strategy to those working directly with children and teens.

An ex-gang member himself, he said: “MPs should not be leading on anything at all any more.

“Don’t consult people like me at the end – come to us at the beginning. Pay us, give us the resources, and we will come up with a strategy and implement it.”

He added that it was time for politicians to put people in charge “who have lived this life, who know what they are talking about. I’d be happy to work with them.”



Sheldon Thomas
Sheldon Thomas

In response to criticism from Labour, Rudd – who did not include a full analysis of the impact of police cuts in her plan – said “tit for tat” over officer numbers was doing a “disservice” to affected communities. 

Thomas said he had repeatedly warned politicians that violent crime among young people was set to rise. “It should be us leading, and MPs listening,” he said. “Not the other way around. Things have to change and MPs have to get out of their comfort zone.”

Thirteen Londoners were killed in a two-week period last month alone. 

Latest figures show knife crime increased by 21%, gun crime by 20% and murder rates by 17% across England and Wales in the year ending September 2017.

“This isn’t just a London problem, it’s nationwide and it stems from economic suppression,” Thomas said. ″The first thing that needs to happen to tackle this is that communities need to own the problem – and at the moment they don’t.

“Politicians need to trust us, show us respect and work with us, otherwise there will be no real change.

“Pick up the phone to us and stop recruiting people who cannot relate to these young people,” he said. 



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Amber Rudd has unveiled the government’s new knife crime strategy.

Police have warned that social media is playing an increasing role in the escalation of gang violence, with trivial disputes exploding “within minutes” when rivals set out to goad each other on the internet.

Sarah Jones, who chairs an All-Party Parliamentary Group on knife crime, said it is time for online giants to step up and tackle their part in the problem – a sentiment shared by the home secretary, who said it was “everyone’s responsibility”.

The Croydon Central MP has previously called for knife crime to be treated as a “public health issue”, with ministers tackling it as they would an epidemic rather than a justice matter.

“Social media does bear some of the blame for what has happened over the past few years,” she said.

“Government should do more to use criminal behaviour orders to block high-risk individuals from using social media.”

Jones’ call comes following the conviction of the killers of Croydon teenager Jermaine Goupall earlier this year.

The court heard how Jermaine’s killers had been producing music videos threatening to stab people as part of a “postcode war” between rival gangs in the borough.

The videos in question were removed by YouTube on Friday – long after they had been flagged to the company.

“One of Jermaine’s killers was known to police for knife carrying but was still allowed to post goading videos threatening stabbings,” Jones added.

YouTube bosses were lambasted by the home affairs select committee in March, after failing to act to take down far-right extremist content on their website. 

A spokesperson for the company said: “Our hearts go out to Jermaine’s family. We do not allow videos that are abusive or that promote violence on YouTube.

“We work closely with organisations like the Metropolitan Police who understand and provide relevant context for videos, and we act quickly to review and remove them when they violate our policies.

“In the UK, we have developed policies specifically to help tackle knife and gang crime. We continue to work closely with the police and community groups to tackle this issue.”

Jones wants to see an increase in the use of Criminal Behaviour Orders to ban proven knife offenders from using certain social media platforms, and to penalise companies who fail to remove content where it is proven to be inciting violence – similar to a system used in Germany, where offenders are fined for not taking down offensive material quickly enough.



Sarah Jones
Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones

School exclusions have also been suggested as a possible reason for the rise in violence attacks, with more young people with behaviour issues being sent to Pupil Referral Units after being kicked out of mainstream education.

Those known to social services, or suffering with mental health issues, are ten times more likely to end up in a PRU and black Caribbean children are also four times over-represented in such units when compared to the national population’s ethnic breakdown.

According to The Difference, a charity which focuses on social exclusion, there has been a 40% rise in school exclusions in the UK over three years, with four London boroughs making the top 20.

Chief executive Kiran Gill said: “I don’t think exclusion is the single root cause of offending but I do believe it is exacerbating safeguarding issues that can lead to offending and youth violence.

“Often, it is a safeguarding concern that might mean that the child is excluded – so for instance substance misuse, bringing a weapon to school, even things like violent behaviour – these are all indications that something is not safe or normal in a child’s life. 

“These children need an intervention that helps keep them safe but often they get less support and find themselves in a less regulated part of the sector.”

Additional reporting by Rachel Wearmouth

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Entertainment

Facebook Starts Notifying Millions Of Users Affected By Data Scandal

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Facebook has started notifying every user whose private data may have been compromised by the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

All 87 million of those affected (1m of whom are located in the UK) will get a message appear at the top of their News Feed notifying them and then giving them some next steps on how to protect their data in future.



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Facebook has started rolling out two custom mes

In addition, all 2.2bn Facebook users will receive a notice titled “Protecting Your Information” with a link to see what apps they use and what information they have shared with those apps. If they want, they can shut off apps individually or turn off third-party access to their apps completely.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal started with an app called ‘This Is Your Digital Life’ – a personality quiz created in 2014 by a Cambridge University researcher called Aleksander Kogan.

The quiz paid around 270,000 people to take part, but thanks to Facebook’s data-sharing policy at the time, the app was able to vacuum up not just their data but all of their friends.

While Facebook later limited the data that these apps could access, the damage had already been done.

Since the revelations came to light Facebook has rolled out a huge wave of changes to the amount of personal data it shares with third-parties and has tried to give users more control over how they share their personal data with these apps.

How to check and delete the apps you have on Facebook

Head to Settings. This can be found in the top right-hand corner of Facebook’s profile page. Once within the settings menu head to the bottom left-hand corner of the screen and you’ll see the word Apps.



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Once you click on this you’ll see every external app, or internal app, that uses Facebook either as a login or as a third-party service.

Click on any app and you’ll see exactly how much information about you this app has access to.

For example, “Cities I’ve Visited” was a simple map app I downloaded years ago to help track my holidays and share them with my friends. Yet when I look at what information I’ve shared with them, it’s almost everything including my birthdayeducation historywork historycurrent locationall photos including any that I’m tagged in and of course, my likes.



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To bulk delete simply click on the box next to each one and you’ll be able to delete them all at once without getting any pop-up boxes for each one.



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How to control what data you share with advertisers and others

While what we’ve just discussed can help you control what information you’re sharing through apps it’s not the full picture.

To get a complete understanding of how your Facebook information is being shared to advertisers head to Settings and then Ads.

From there you’ll be able to see why certain adverts are being shared to you and also control the amount of data that they can receive.



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Finally to then control the amount of information you share with other people on Facebook head to Settings and then Privacy.



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Entertainment

Interview with Mertesacker About Exit from Arsenal Football

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The nausea comes four to five seconds before kickoff. Every time. Once he takes his position on the pitch, surrounded by roaring fans, and he knows that, once again, he has to give it his all for 90 minutes.

The tension, he says, becomes almost unbearable. “My stomach starts churning and I feel like I’m going to throw up. Then I have to choke so hard that I tear up.” He always turns his head to the side with his chin facing his shoulder so that no one can see what is happening — no TV cameras, no coaches, no teammates. So that no one will ever ask what’s wrong with him before each match, what’s wrong with Per Mertesacker, the quiet, confident defender.

We meet with Mertesacker, a member of the 2014 World Cup-winning German national team and captain of Arsenal London, at a Thai restaurant in the city’s North End on a Friday in January. He has reserved the table online and sent a screenshot via WhatsApp: 2 p.m., two people, Mertesacker.

Here in England, people call him the “big fucking German.” And he is big, there’s no doubt about that. He’s barely able to fit his legs under the table.

Per Mertesacker, 6’6″, is slim and is wearing white sneakers, jeans and a gray sweatshirt. He orders a water, chicken with cashews and asks the waiter to hold the cilantro. He has just returned from practice.

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There’s a lot about the 33-year-old that makes him seem much younger than he is. You see it in his smile, his nonchalantness with which he leans back in his chair, his arms folded. Or perhaps he just wants to create a bit of distance before allowing the kind of proximity that no world-class football player has ever allowed before.

Mertesacker plans to end his career in May after 15 years as a professional player, 104 international matches, 221 games in Germany’s Bundesliga, 155 in Britain’s Premier League and 83 in European football.

Reduced to Your Performance

He says he’s tired, sapped.

The doctors say he’s broken.

But Mertesacker doesn’t want to go out with a whimper. He says he wants to leave something behind for “the following generations.”

He wants to provide a glimpse into the brutality of the football business. He wants to clear up false assumptions and show what it really means to live the job that many see as a dream: the need to stand up to ruinous pressure, being trapped in an unending cycle of training and games yet constantly being reduced to your performance.

You’re always just the player and never the person behind the jersey.

As he sets a condition for the interview, his gaze is determined. “It can’t come across as being whiny, because I am, of course, aware of the privileged life I lead.” He knows that many can only dream of his fame and of his bank account balance. And of all that comes with it: the mansions, the luxury cars, vacations spent in the Seychelles, the Maldives and Mauritius.

He just wants to show what he has long sought to ignore — namely that the enormous business of football demands far more from its players than just their bodies.

“This is the first time I’ve spoken about the nausea issue,” Mertesacker says. The nervousness starts the night before the game. Clemens Fritz, with whom he shared a room back when he played for Werder Bremen, once called his attention to it. “He said he did everything he could to try to fall asleep before me. Before games, my right foot would twitch so hard that the entire duvet would rustle. It drove him crazy.” Mertesacker says he had never noticed it himself.

Then there’s the diarrhea he gets on the mornings of matches — looking back, he says it happened on more than 500 days of his life. Mertesacker looks down at his long fingers as he goes through the list. “I have to go to the bathroom right after getting up, right after breakfast, again after lunch and again at the stadium.” Everything he eats just passes right on through.

For a while, all his body could handle was noodles with a bit of olive oil. He couldn’t eat any later than four hours before a game to ensure that his stomach was guaranteed to be totally empty when the nausea started. “As if everything that then happened, symbolically speaking, just made me want to puke.”

‘What the Heck Is That?’

He makes an effort to smile. “You think to yourself: Oh shit, hopefully nobody saw that. What the heck is that? On the other hand, I was totally present right afterwards.” He makes a fist with his right hand and punches his left. “Totally there.”

He never even told his wife, his family or his friends about the nausea thing. “I didn’t want to be dramatic about it,” he says. “It had no effect on my performance.” Mertesacker then pauses to think. “At the same time, even as a child, I tended to keep things to myself.

He stood on a soccer pitch for the first time at the age of four. It was in Pattensen, a town located near Hannover. His father Stefan was the coach of the local team at the time. “I still remember how I would stand together with the boys in front of the small trophies in the hall. Oh, look, maybe we’ll win that one — or that one.”

At games, children often cried when they saw him because he was so tall, even then. From early on, he began playing on the team for players who were a year older than he was. “I was always a defender — always simple, but effective. I’m still the same today.”

At the age of 11, he joined Hannover 96. He never even thought he would make it onto the “big stage,” he says. “I never wanted to become a professional football player,” he says. “Football was my hobby and that was it.” At the time, he decorated his room with posters of Hannover 96, Bob Marley and Anna Kournikova.

The fact that his father must have seen a greater potential in him became clear when Per was 15. At the time, he was suffering a growth disorder, and had gone through such a sudden burst of growth that his knees hadn’t caught up yet. “I had so much pain in my left knee that I couldn’t play for a year,” he says.

His father was troubled. “You’re not going to make it anyway,” he once hissed. Let’s just focus on school for now and then see what happens later, his mother said, reassuringly.

You’re not going to make it. “In a certain sense, that sentence was liberating,” Mertesacker says, looking back. Suddenly the pressure he had always felt was lifted.

Beacon of Hope

When he returned to Hannover 96’s youth team, it had adopted a four-man defense with two central defenders. Try playing that, his coach said. You’re steady with the ball and good in the air.

His coaches soon came to see him as a team anchor. After the youth team, he was given a contract with the club’s amateur team. And then, one day, he got a call from Mirko Slomka, an assistant coach with Hannover 96. He was told to buy a mobile phone so he could be reached in case he was needed by the professional team. “That was the first time where I thought to myself, wait a second, this is getting serious,” Mertesacker says.



United Images/ Picture Alliance/ Pacific Press

Arsenal player Per Mertesacker shows off his skills in the air.

In 2003, he signed his first contract to play professional football. It was for two years and paid him 1,000 euros a month. His father said that he first needed to gain respect. On Nov. 1, 2003, he played his first Bundesliga match against 1. FC Köln — at the time, he was the youngest German-born player in the Bundesliga.

Around 20 matches later, he got a call from German national team coach Jürgen Klinsmann. “He wanted a breath of fresh air on the national team and he invited me,” Mertesacker recalls. He smiles and shakes his head. “I just thought: It must be an April Fool’s Joke.”

He suddenly turns serious. Thus far, he has told his story in a light-hearted tone, but now he begins speaking softly and struggling to find his words.

“There was one highlight after the other,” he recalls. “But it was already a difficult balancing act at that point. I graduated from high school, I went to practice every day and I played on the weekends. I was often just telling myself: don’t think about it, just keep going, keep going.” He then pauses for a moment. “Because, of course, at some point you realize that it’s all a burden, physically and mentally, that you’re supposed to handle and deal with. That is no longer in any way about having fun and that you have to deliver, with no ifs, ands or buts, even if you’re injured.”

He suffered his first bad injury in 2005. He was fouled during a national team match, kicked in his Achilles tendon. But taking time off to heal wasn’t an option. His team, 96, was in danger of relegation and he was trying to get a slot on the national team. He continued playing for a year to the point that a bone had deformed. “It was terrible pain. But with this job, you always have to be prepared to sacrifice your health. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

A Real Rush

It paid off; Klinsmann nominated him for the team. “The idea of being part of the World Cup taking place in your own country was a real rush,” he says.

Mertesacker pushes his plate aside and pulls out a red notebook, leafing through it to glance at the notes he has prepared for his meeting with DER SPIEGEL. “Of course, I was also disappointed when we lost to Italy and were out of the tournament in the semifinal, but more than anything, I was relieved,” he says. “I can still remember it as if it were yesterday. All I thought was: It’s over, it’s over. It’s finally over.”

He says he wouldn’t have been able to handle another match at the time, and it wasn’t because of his heel. “I got eaten up by the pressure,” he says. “This constant horror scenario of making a mistake that would lead to a goal.” He stays silent for a moment. “You also have the fear during other games; you’re constantly looking at the scoreboard and counting the minutes. But at the World Cup, that was inhuman.” Mertesacker gets lost in his thoughts with his napkin, which he rolls together and then back apart again. “But could I have said that? That I was happy that we were out?”

Football is Germany’s favorite sport and professional players are something like cultural treasures. Even if he was totally burned out after a game, he was told: The people have a right to you, Per. He says he heard this line so many times that he can’t even remember how many. And it was always at times when all he wanted to do was get away and not talk to anybody.

He says he has often viewed journalists as vultures. When Bremen lost games, there would often be three camera teams at their practice on Sunday. And if they won, none turned up. It was only the fans who came — lots of families with children who had driven for two or three hours to watch as they practiced.

After the round of 16 match against Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, he was asked by a TV reporter why the team had been so sluggish and vulnerable during the game. Mertesacker, who’s generally friendly and approachable, snapped back, “What do you want? We fought right up to the end. I’m going to spend the next three days in the ice bucket.” Germany had won 2:1.

Mertesacker’s interview was well-received. He’s one of Germany’s most popular players, with close to 3 million fans on Facebook. People like him. He doesn’t have any tattoos, no diamond earrings and no photos of himself posing with models on yachts rocking in the sea off Nice or Ibiza. That may be part of his allure.

The Grind

He then returns to his notes. After the 2006 World Cup, he had to undergo surgery to fix his heel.

He chose a rehabilitation clinic in the town of Donaustauf on the edge of the Bavarian Forest. “I wanted to get as far away from the business, the clubs and the stadiums as possible.” He pauses again and chooses his words carefully. “Everyone thinks it’s a drama if you miss games because you’re injured, but it’s not. Because it’s the only way you can get legitimate time off, it gets you out of the grind.”


Peer Mertesacker (second from left) with others from the German national team after winning the 2014 World Cup.


Action Press

Peer Mertesacker (second from left) with others from the German national team after winning the 2014 World Cup.

The grind. Always the same mix of sponsor meetings, practice and games, week in, week out. Being measured, day after day: How much has he run? How fast? How high did he jump? “Ultimately, no person is interested in whether you played well the last 10 games. The current game is the only one that matters.”

Football is an interplay between love and hate. “When the fans celebrate you, it’s indescribable. But when they boo you, ugh, I sink in shame.”

As a professional player, he says his body went on strike at least once a year. He was back on the pitch three weeks after the 2007/08 season, having played in the European Championship. “In the first practice session, I started off totally normal, until I felt a clicking in my knee, fell down and could no longer move my knee. A torn meniscus. Just like that. Bang.” He makes a clicking sound with his tongue.

He spent a long time asking himself why it had happened. “The answer is simple: I was done, totally done. My body wasn’t ready for any further exertion.”

He fiddles with the bookmark in his notebook. “When I couldn’t go on, I would get injured — it was always that way,” he says. “I would even argue that many recurring injuries were psychological. That in this way the body helps the soul find peace. But nobody scrutinizes that.”

‘Totally Out of It’

He was out with his torn meniscus for seven weeks, once again recovering in Donaustauf. It’s in the rehab clinic that he met his wife, Ulrike Stange. Mertesacker says he has profited enormously from the relationship. She’s a former member of Germany’s national handball team, knows the pressure, the expectations and what it’s like to lie awake for long periods at night. He says he could never fall asleep before 5 a.m. after evening games. “Then you stand on the practice pitch the next day totally out of it.”


Per Mertesacker in the Arsenal changing room


Stuart MacFarlane/ Arsenal FC/ Getty Images

Per Mertesacker in the Arsenal changing room

Today, his wife still has an unspoken understanding when he has to spend three days sick in bed, as he did in January of 2012, because he was exhausted once again. And he was just waiting for that feeling to go away. Which feeling? “Well, the exhaustion, the total exhaustion.”

After he switched from Hannover 96 to Bremen in 2006, there was a psychologist in the dressing room for the first time. He was just introduced: If you’ve got anything, you can talk to him whenever you need to.

He didn’t take advantage of the offer. “When he spoke to us, we all reacted along the lines of: There’s nothing wrong with me, I’m doing well, stay away from me, I don’t want to talk to you.” Mertesacker is carving lines in his fabric napkin with his knife. He shrugs his shoulders. “You don’t want the other people on the team to think there’s something wrong with you. That competitive sports maybe isn’t right for you.”

On the pitch, he says, they are one team, but ultimately they are all solitary fighters, some more and some less sensitive. “You joke around in the dressing room, have closer contact with maybe two, three people. But that’s it. Nobody lets down their guard and says how they really feel.” But on game days, he says, they all run to the toilets.

It wasn’t until he was at Arsenal that he allowed himself to speak to a psychologist. He had been described to him as a performance coach who would make his task as a central defender clearer to him. He says that gave him “more self-confidence.”

He says the psychologist never asked him what the stress was doing to him or how he felt in certain situations.

Empty Words

The suicide of Robert Enke in 2009 plainly demonstrated how much weakness and sickness is being swept under the rug in football. When he talks about his friend Enke, who played keeper for Hannover 96, tears well up in Mertesacker’s eyes. “Even I didn’t know how badly he was doing. That says something, doesn’t it?”

Photos of Enke’s memorial service show a crying Mertesacker. “I was really close to throwing it all away. Especially because one week later, everything was like it was before.” All the talk of more humanity in football, he said, were just empty words.

So why did he keep playing? The euphoria you feel after a win can’t be compared to anything else, he says. The positive feedback from coaches. The love of the game. Being part of a team. The people, especially the children, who idolize you. The new challenges that, he says, often brought new motivations, and ultimately, the offer from Arsenal London, the world-famous club for which he had always wanted to play.

“My career is unique, I had so much luck in my life, I couldn’t give that up so easily,” he says. “It’s hard to explain, but it’s like a vortex that you can’t get out of.”

Of course, the money was also always an argument, “a ton of money,” as he says. “Though I would never say that I was or am personally overpaid. I know what I did for it, what the burden did to me.” He explains what he gave up for it — his youth, his privacy, his freedom. “But again: I’m just pointing it out. I chose this, nobody forced me to do it.”

Mertesacker sees the people he knew before he became the football star as his true friends. Former schoolmates, guys with whom he played at Hannover 96 as a teenager. Those who didn’t continue because they couldn’t handle the pressure.

‘Good for the Mind’

Once a year, he takes a vacation with them, sometimes to go fishing in Canada, but often just to go hiking in the Harz Mountains in central Germany, where his grandmother and grandfather used to live. Then they sit in some mountain hut, sing and eat schnitzel. And play football on the cinder pitch.

“Those days are good for the mind,” he says. He draws energy from them. There, and of course with his family, his wife and his kids, “who, when I come home at night, aren’t interested in how I played. They’re just happy that I’m home.”

Both of his sons, Paul, 6, and Oscar, 3, are among the main reasons he is ending his career. “They are reaching an age where they understand that their father plays for Arsenal, and people know me,” says Mertesacker. “I don’t want them to define themselves through me, or for them to have to hear at school how badly I played over the weekend.”

The doctors are also telling him to stop. His right knee is busted, with cartilage damage. “My body is simply finished.”

The crucial factor, though, is that he’s tired and just “doesn’t want to do it anymore,” he says. “Everyone says I should really savor the last year, play as much as possible, really soak everything in.” He shakes his head. “I’d most like to sit on the bench, or, even better, in the stands.”

Mertesacker will be playing his final game in May. “And then I will, at an age of over 30, finally be free for the first time in my life,” he says.

‘Worth It For the Memories’

After a three-month break, he will be taking over the Arsenal’s Academy this summer, which trains future talent for the team. He has big plans. “I want to attack the system. We are responsible for the boys who come to us. They cannot bet everything on the football card and neglect school.” He says that ultimately, only 1 percent of them will succeed. “And of the remaining 99 percent, 60 percent will become long-term unemployed.”

He also wants to open the boys’ eyes. That the things players post on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are only tiny excerpts of reality. That the big headphones and dark sunglasses aren’t so much cool accessories as protection from the outside world.

Many hours have gone by the time Mertesacker closes his notebook. He leans back in his chair, stretches his long legs. He says he didn’t know what he was getting into when he became a professional player. “But even if I had to throw up before every game and go to physical rehabilitation 20 times, I would still always do it again.”

To win the World Cup title for Germany in 2014, to stand in Wembley Stadium with 50,000 people screaming for Arsenal. “It was all worth it for the memories.”

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