The Duke of Cambridge spoke with the head coach and some players from Arsenal football club as his mental health campaign Heads Up prepares to culminate with the prestigious FA Cup Final in August

By Simon Perry
June 11, 2020 05:30 PM
Prince William on a video call with Arsenal soccer players
Kensington Palace

Prince William joked with a top international soccer star about his hopes for him joining his favorite team, Aston Villa.

William asked Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang if he would leave Arsenal for the team the prince – and his son Prince George — passionately support.

“I just want to say to Pierre that, obviously, I hope you’re at Aston Villa next year,” he quipped during a video call.

The prince's comment was met with laughter from the other players on the call, and a finger wag of defiance from the Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta.

William, 37, added, “I thought I’d put that in – just in case!”

Prince William
Kensington Palace

William joined the coach, players and staff of the Premier League team to talk about his mental health campaign Heads Up, which has been promoted alongside soccer in the U.K. throughout the season.

William’s initiative, which was also featured in a documentary, is set to culminate at the FA Cup final, slated for August 1, when the showpiece game will be named the Heads Up FA Cup final.

With the games set to re-start next week following the coronavirus pandemic, William reiterated his fears that mental health challenges will be even greater in the wake of the crisis and difficulties many people have faced at home.

“We’re going to really use the final as a moment to promote good, positive mental health for everyone,” William said. “It’s quite timely bearing in mind what we’ve all been through with this pandemic. I think there’s going to be, sadly, a lot of repercussions from this in society, not just in football, in terms of people’s mental health. Hopefully, the FA Cup can be a bit of a pivot that people can rally around.”

In the video call, the soccer fan spoke to Aubameyang, 30, about what support he has given his teammates.

Prince George, Prince William and Kate Middleton at a soccer match
Stephen Pond/Getty Images

“I think the most important thing is to be next to them, to try to speak a lot with them, [and] to give them all the space they need for talking, because I think the best thing is to talk, and to discuss problems,” said Aubamayang, who plays internationally for Gabon.

Arteta added of the players' mental health during the pandemic, “You have to create a safe environment for them to be able to talk to you directly without feeling judged, or [worrying] whether that’s going to have consequences for them, whether they’re going to play or not, or my feelings towards them. This is what I’ve been trying to do over the last 12 weeks, by trying to talk individually so they can raise those feelings, their issues, and we can build the club culture that I want, which is based on respect.”

The video call, which also featured the club's academy boss Per Mertesacker and player Hector Bellerin, was timed as the season is set to re-start following the break caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Princess Charlotte plays soccer with big brother Prince George
Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty

Godric Smith, Chair of the Heads Up campaign, said in a statement that they were "extremely grateful" to the FA for dedicating the final of soccer's "most iconic domestic cup competition to Heads Up," calling it "a huge statement about the importance of mental health and their commitment to it."

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"Given the many different impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever that we talk about our mental health and help support one another, and The Heads Up FA Cup Final will hopefully generate many more of those conversations amongst fans and the football community," Smith added.