Ireland's Will Smallbone believes that coming out the other side of a bad injury and his alopecia diagnosis has made him a stronger character in football.
Smallbone, who has impressed for Ireland at underage levels, made his full debut against Latvia in March. The 23-year-old was one of the standout players in the 3-2 win in Dublin. He was also named man of the match.
Days later, the midfielder was an unused substitute against France. The Stoke City midfielder is now hoping to increase his cap tally against the likes of Greece and Gibraltar next week in the Euro 2024 qualifiers.
Despite being highly lauded in footballing circles by managers at both club and country, the journey has not been smooth sailing for the Ireland starlet. A cruciate ligament injury in January 2021 and the sudden emergence of the hair loss condition alopecia meant that Smallbone's confidence started to suffer. Alopecia areata is a disease that occurs when the immune system attacks hair follicles and causes hair loss.
In the UK, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence estimates that alopecia affects around 15 in 10,000 people in the general population.
Alopecia diagnosis during ACL injury helped build resilience for Republic of Ireland midfielder Will Smallbone. #BBCFootball
— BBC SPORT NI (@BBCSPORTNI) June 8, 2023
In an interview with a charity in 2022, Smallbone said, "I was very sad at first, and it was quite a traumatic time, going from having loads of hair to suddenly a patch growing on the back of my head to then all being completely gone within a few months. I’d say the hardest thing about having alopecia has been the impact on my confidence."
Fast forward to 2023, the Ireland player believes that he is a stronger person for his experiences and that nothing will now stand in his way going forward. Speaking from Ireland’s training base in Antalya, Turkey, Smallbone said on a Zoom call, "The stuff that’s happened to me over the last few years, I wouldn't wish upon anyone. I’ve shown resilience and a lot of character to know that I can take on anything that is thrown at me."
On the club front, Smallbone's parent club Southampton were relegated from the Premiership this year. Although he has been on loan and there has been speculation around his future, the 23-year-old isn't thinking of anything other than performing well with Ireland. Southampton has still not appointed a manager, and rumors have been floated around that it will be Russell Martin, the Swansea boss.
“I don’t think anything has been announced yet, so I’m not sure what’s going on down there. I’m not thinking too much about my future while I’m out here with Ireland. I’ll wait for Southampton to appoint a manager and, like everyone else, have a conversation with him to see where he sees me. What’s important for me next season is to carry on playing football."
Republic of Ireland Squad - Greece & GibraltarGoalkeepers: Gavin Bazunu (Southampton), Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool), Mark Travers (AFC Bournemouth)
Defenders: Matt Doherty (Atlético Madrid), Mark Sykes (Bristol City), Callum O'Dowda (Cardiff City), James McClean (Wigan Athletic), Nathan Collins (Wolverhampton Wanderers), John Egan (Sheffield United), Dara O'Shea (West Bromwich Albion), Darragh Lenihan (Middlesbrough), Liam Scales (Celtic).
Midfielders: Josh Cullen (Burnley), Jayson Molumby (West Bromwich Albion), Jeff Hendrick (Reading), Alan Browne (Preston North End), Will Smallbone (Southampton), Jason Knight (Derby County), Jamie McGrath (Wigan Athletic), Jack Taylor (Peterborough United).
Forwards: Adam Idah (Norwich City), Michael Obafemi (Burnley), Evan Ferguson (Brighton and Hove Albion), Troy Parrott (Tottenham Hotspur), Mikey Johnston (Vitória de Guimarães, on loan from Celtic).UEFA EURO 2024 - Fixtures 16/06 - Greece v Ireland, OPAP Arena, 7.45pm (21.45pm local time) 19/06 - Ireland v Gibraltar, Aviva Stadium, 7.45pm