Per Mertesacker has spoken openly about his humbling experience working part-time in a psychiatric hospital when he left school.

When he left school, Per had the choice of either serving in the military or doing a ‘social year’ while he played football. The German picked working his social year part-time in a psychiatric hospital, which he admits was a humbling experience.

“When I finished school, I had to serve the country either in the military or by doing a social year,” the 33-year-old told Arsenal Player. “I decided to do a social year while I was playing football, so the club had a few links with mental hospitals and I chose one of those and they offered that I can train in the morning and serve in the afternoon and help people out.

“At first I thought, ‘Can I deal with that? Can I deal with people not knowing me?’ but they just needed help to get food, to go to the toilet, to go to bed, to get dressed, everything. They just needed 24/7 help.

“But I felt like I could handle it and the most important part was I felt I could work in the morning and go there and do my job and serve the country, but serve the patients as well and see what it’s about when you really struggle with your life. 

“It kept me going and kept me seeing the world in a different way, a totally different way, so when you experience first-hand what it’s about, when you really struggle, when you really need help from other people, it keeps you down to earth… that was a humbling experience for me.

“When I look back to that time, that was a really healthy balance for me to grow and to see what it means on the one hand living in a world of highlights, in a world of beauty and people recognising you, people showing up for a game with 40,000 fans in the stands, and then on the other hand the hidden guys who need 24/7 help and do not recognise you.

“I think that was the best experience I had. That really kept me going, growing not only as a person but as a footballer.”

The more the centre-back speaks personally, the more fascinating he becomes.

Per is set to take over as head of the Arsenal academy when his playing contract expires at the end of the season and part of that, he explained back in August, is so that he can help the younger players overcome adversity. He believes that youngsters don’t currently have that sort of support and aren’t taught how to win, lose and be humble, which is something he obviously learned early on in his career.

Per isn’t just a leader on the pitch, he’s a leader off it and that’s perhaps what Arsenal need. It’s one thing having a big bloke who will go out on a Saturday afternoon and verbally kick the players who aren’t pulling their weight around the pitch but it’s another to have someone who will genuinely listen and lift you behind the scenes.

We have both in Per.