Southampton goalkeeper Willy Caballero explains how he is trying to clamp down on social media abuse

Playing football, in his own words, is the only thing Willy Caballero can do well. When he is it makes him a better father, husband and friend.

It is why plans to retire at the end of this season are being reconsidered after Southampton gave him the chance to continue his career beyond his 40th birthday when he was previously preparing to hang up his gloves.

But the veteran goalkeeper does himself something of a disservice by playing down what he has to offer – he is also someone striving to make the online world a better place for everyone.

Goalkeeper Willy Caballero is considering continuing his career beyond this season

One benefit of his spell out of the game after leaving Chelsea last summer and being without a club for five months was that Caballero had added time to invest in another subject close to his heart.

Caballero is among a group of players involved in the imminently-launching app OPON which aims to help tackle the growing problem of social media abuse by enforcing that users need to be ID verified, hopefully deterring culprits but also simplifying the process of tracking any down.

Watford’s Daniel Bachmann, Fulham’s Tom Cairney and Sheffield Wednesday’s Josh Windass created the app which is also being backed by Caballero’s former Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany.

Ambassador Caballero’s contribution comes following his own experiences during the 2018 World Cup.

Former team-mate Vincent Kompany is backing the app that Caballero has helped to create

Former team-mate Vincent Kompany is backing the app that Caballero has helped to create

‘It was really hard because I was in the best moment of my life, playing in the World Cup,’ he began.

‘Unfortunately I made a mistake from which we conceded a goal against Croatia but [even] before that I was just receiving a lot of abuse, maybe because people wanted another goalkeeper in the goal or whatever. But after that, it wasn’t just me it was my family, my daughter, all the people around me that suffered this kind of abuse. I would like to stop this. As a player and experienced player I can live with it but there is no reason to attack my family.

‘That’s the thing I would like to avoid. That another player that has this situation won’t live it again.

‘That was the point which I thought that social media has to change.

‘There is still no regulation. You saw in the past a lot of players from the [England] national team suffering a lot of bullying, abuse. It is not just players. I think of kids in school, every person. ‘

Caballero sees how the younger generation spend ‘eight to ten hours a day’ exposed to social media and some team-mates down the years have had greater contact online with relative strangers in far flung destinations than their own families. He fears the impact of online abuse.

‘We don’t know exactly the amount of players or people that after that need psychological treatment,’ a concerned Caballero said.

Caballero was subjected to online abuse during the 2018 World Cup as Argentina struggled

Caballero was subjected to online abuse during the 2018 World Cup as Argentina struggled

‘Most of the people or players, they don’t communicate in the right way with the people close to them. When they are suffering the family doesn’t know and that becomes a mental or psychological problem. They can’t find a way to talk, the right friend to approach. I believe that is social media’s doing.

‘We have to do better with this way to communicate. Hopefully this app will be out soon and we can improve this situation.

‘Now this idea became real and we can reach the Premier League, FIFA, other sports. It will be better if the Premier League or more players get involved and we can reach the right people to fight abuse online.

‘Social media [companies] have to provide the right way to communicate, the right way to receive comments. They have to do the next move to help us to receive [only] the right criticism because we can deal with that.

‘I’m not disappointed. Everyone loves social media. I’m not hating the social media. I’m saying that just this kind of abuse, we can stop it. I believe I have the right experience to help this generation but there are a lot of things to do and if they don’t put sanctions we can’t do it without them. ‘

While the spotlight of elite sport has its downsides playing football also makes Caballero feel alive and he was not ready to step away when his Chelsea contract expired last summer.

Sharing a mutual friend from his Chelsea days with AFC Wimbledon’s respected goalkeeper coach Ashley Bayes, who counts Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsdale among his successes, Caballero kept his instincts sharp by training with the League One club.

While he was on the outside looking in, patience was required.

‘Every week, waiting for the call or maybe a rumor that said, “in January if we can sell this player…”’ Caballero said.

Caballero has taken advice from Ashley Bayes, who has helped Aaron Ramsdale in the past

Caballero has taken advice from Ashley Bayes, who has helped Aaron Ramsdale in the past

‘I said to Ashley Bayes “I’ll do this until the end of the year or the end of the season. After this, I will retire because 40 years old and one whole season not playing, there’s no point starting again. “‘

In December, finally, Southampton did call.

‘I don’t want to say I feel young again, but I’m enjoying it, happy to have it and I’m living again,’ Caballero said.

‘This is the only thing that I can do well. I can do many things but the only thing that I can do well is playing football. And because I love football. I can live with football, watching football, feeling football, not 24 hours but 10 or 12 hours a day.

‘And I really needed, my body really needed, my head, my mental health really needed it. My family also pushed me to do it even when I was free agent because they know me better than anybody. They know me, that I can be a better father, better husband, better friend when I’m training, playing. All these things push me to be alive and to be ready.

‘I’m feeling really well, with confidence, playing some games and helping the team. So I would like to continue. But we’ll see what happens in the future. ‘

Following his spells in England at Chelsea and today’s opponents Manchester City, Caballero is now Southampton’s cup keeper, hoping to help them into a second successive semi-final.

Caballero’s final season at the Etihad coincided with Pep Guardiola’s first.

Caballero is set to go up against his ex-boss Pep Guardiola when Southampton face Man City

Caballero is set to go up against his ex-boss Pep Guardiola when Southampton face Man City

Despite being happy with his team’s overall performance, Caballero knows City’s preparations this week will be fueled by Guardiola’s ‘anger’ and ‘frustration’ at dropped points against Crystal Palace on Monday.

Now it’s Southampton’s turn to try and defy City once again after two league draws this season.

‘We are training for this moment,’ Caballero said. ‘We have to be positive and believe. Sometimes when small teams play against the big teams, they’re just thinking about not losing. We have to believe in more.

‘They are better than us, we know that, but we can hurt them. And we are ready to do our job. And hopefully we can win this time. ‘

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