Search icon


06th May 2017

Both Jamie Carragher and Ryan Giggs use columns to open up on experiences with mental strain

Both men saw specialists at various stages of their careers

Darragh Murphy

A spotlight has been cast on one of the most seldom-discussed issues in football.

On Sunday afternoon, Everton winger Aaron Lennon was detained under the Mental Health Act amid concerns for his welfare.

The incident has brought the subject of mental health in football to the fore given the pressure associated with players competing at the top level.

Scrutiny in the media, unrealistic expectations of fans, personal disappointment and the disgusting abuse that often accompanies poor performances all contribute to anxiety among players.

Dressing room culture and assumptions of machoism typically result in an unwillingness to open up to teammates and that bottling up of emotions only serves to exacerbate matters.

Days after Aaron Lennon’s troubles came to light, two of most high-profile players in Premier League history have opened up on their own experiences with mental pressure.

In his Daily Mail column, Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher revealed that he spent months with a sports psychologist named Bill Beswick as the defender struggled to come to terms with mistakes he’d made in games for the Reds.

“The pressure from within used to have an impact on my behaviour,” Carragher wrote. “If games had gone badly, I would take things home with me. I’d be snappy at my kids and felt constantly wound up.

“My wife never went to many Liverpool games but if she was out on a Saturday, she would always ask someone for the score. If we had won, she’d simply be relieved that I would be coming home in a good mood.

“It was hard, though, to speak to managers at Liverpool. They had enough on their plate — plus I didn’t want to do anything to leave them doubting me.”

Carragher admitted that it is his inability to cope with such stress that continues to leave him questioning whether he’d be able to transition to the realm of football management.

“It’s part of the reason that I have yet to consider going into management,” Carragher continued. “To be a successful manager, I would have to put myself through that again and I wonder whether I could do it. You can see why, then, I felt it necessary to see Bill Beswick.

“I’m not for one minute comparing my situation to what Aaron Lennon has been through, but I’m just trying to explain the torment to which players are subjected.”

You might imagine that the most decorated player in the history of the Premier League, Ryan Giggs, didn’t have much to worry about throughout his career but you’d be wrong.

Giggs, like Carragher, was also tormented by his poor performances and found it difficult to accept the reality that it was impossible to play the perfect game every week.

“I do not know what has affected Aaron, but I always struggled in the periods I was out the team or playing badly,” Giggs wrote in his Daily Telegraph column.

“I had a feeling of worthlessness. As a footballer you wonder if your team-mates are looking at you and asking the questions you are asking of yourself. Why can’t he hit a decent pass? Why’s he always injured? What’s wrong with him?”

Giggs began seeing a psychiatrist when his 29-year association with Manchester United came to an end last year and he welcomes the awareness that is now being raised on the subject of mental health in football.

“Aaron Lennon’s story has made mental health of footballers an issue again and I think that for his sake and everyone else in the game it is important to be open about how we feel as professionals, and how we cope with stress,” Giggs added.

“When my life as a player and then coach at United came to an end last summer…I made the decision to see a psychiatrist to learn how best to cope and some of the suggestions he made served me well in adapting to a new life outside of United.”