In the wider world around us, the issue of mental health has become ever more prominent in society, and there is ever more coverage on cases of mental issues which affect everyday lives. Generally, much of the population seems to have a poor understanding on what is a growing topic, with an extraordinary amount of cases popping up.
The coverage, and the lack of knowledge that follows closely behind, stretches everywhere. This includes the world of sport, and the world of professional football.
You might ask: how can players, managers and coaches in the professional game earn so much and claim to be suffering mentally? As we know, of course, it is no secret that footballers earn a handsome wage, but we also know that money is not everything. There are more tangible and more important aspects of life which affect even those often living in its outer extremities.
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In turn, the mental struggle that footballers face can often lead to increased chance of injury. This is according to a Swedish study.
They found that in 2017, 14.6% of injury occurrences in Sweden’s professional league were due to psychological stresses imposed by the sheer pressure to perform, and the constant, on-going roller coaster that is the professional game.
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Closer to home, in England, Olu Maintain was released by Tottenham at the age of 18. He had spent all his life playing football and trying to make it as a professional, but was left wondering what to do next after his release. He was told in training one day that he would not be taken any further by the club, and said that he subsequently spent years dealing with depression.
After quietly going home, Olu was called by the head of the academy. “I think he thought I was going to kill myself or do something crazy”, he said.
Maintain went on to sign for Norwich in East-Anglia and Falkirk in Scotland, and now plays part-time for Woking. Despite this, he states the initial, seemingly abrupt end to his career stayed with him for a long time.
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A high-profile name that kick started a nationwide embrace for those struggling mentally in football, was Aaron Lennon. The winger plays for Burnley now, and was previously at fellow Premier League sides Tottenham and Everton. He took time out of the game having been detained under the mental health act while he was at Everton in 2017. Police found him in the Manchester City area in a “distressed state”, and after 20 minutes of talking, were able to get him to hospital.
Having recovered from the illness, Lennon came back and stated his fear of other players in the game struggling to cope with the stresses cultivated by the intense day-to-day life of professional football.
His strife was an inspiration for many other footballers with similar issues to eliminate any fear of letting it be known that they too were in a dark place. In England as a whole, 2018 saw 438 players in the professional game reach out for help with mental health issues, which is an all-time record for the country.
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But are professional clubs doing enough to help players deal with the mental stresses of the game, and further to this, are they doing enough to prevent players struggling mentally in the first place?
Just as mental struggles can lead to injury, it can all work the other way around too. However, a study by Brunel University London showed that a sports psychologist is only involved in around a third of the cases of injured players, who are often left fearing for their place in the team when they return, and may even be fearing over their future at the club, and in football as a whole.
Many things go through a player’s head at the best of times, so when they are injured, the grave possibilities they think of can be endless, yet only 37% of the professional clubs surveyed said they had a sports psychologist at hand to help injured players deal with the immeasurable stress and the agonising concern over their future.
Danny Rose, Tottenham’s left back, was helped massively by the aid structure at the club, who comforted and supported him through a knee injury last year. It is clearly a system that works and results in general player happiness at clubs, which does beg the question: why are clubs not doing more? And why is football as a whole seemingly standing still on the issue?
It is a polemic subject, with damming figures protruding to English clubs. Mental health in football, clearly, needs addressing.
[Feature Image courtesy of FIFA]