Gareth Southgate on players' problems with addressing mental health: 'They don't want to show weakness'

Camilla Turner
England manager Gareth Southgate says footballers can be

Football players are "bloody hard work" when it comes to opening up and talking about mental health issues, the England manager Gareth Southgate has said.

He said that male players “aren’t comfortable opening up” because they do not “want to show weakness in front of each other”.

Mr Southgate's comments came amid claims that football clubs are failing to do enough to look after their players’ emotional well-being.

Earlier this week it emerged that Everton player Aaron Lennon had been detained under the Mental Health Act. He was admitted to hospital for assessment two days earlier after being spotted near a busy thoroughfare next to the M602.

The former England winger’s plight drew a wave of sympathy from within and outside football, and the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) said that some teams needed to do more to meet their “duty of care” obligations.

Michael Bennett, who is head of player welfare at the PFA, told Telegraph Sport that more current and former players than ever were coming forward to seek help.

Aaron Lennon's situation has brought mental health under the spotlight this week Credit: Getty images

Addressing headteachers at the Boarding School Association’s annual conference in York on Wednesday, Southgate said that he tries to encourage players to open up about their mental health issues by showing them his own weaknesses.

“I've played with a couple of players who have mental health issues,” he said. “I didn't understand it fully then as a player, I have a much better understanding of it as a coach.

“Having handled a couple of those players, I've spoken to them subsequently and said ‘I apologise because I didn't understand what you were going through’.”

He said that football is a highly pressured environment, and players can suffer “enormous anxiety” and be plagued by “self doubt”.

“For any performer goi‎ng on stage, there's enormous anxiety - whether that is a sportswoman, sportsman, an actor, a musician, comedian - there is always that element of can I do it today,” he said.

Southgate, a former England player, said that encouraging footballers to talk about their feelings is a “big challenge”, adding that female football players find it far easier than their male counterparts.

“We are also in a sport where boys aren't comfortable opening up,” he said. “The women's senior team are brilliant at sharing collectively, they share their feelings, they have a different dynamic as a group.

“Our men's team are bloody hard work. I would question them as a group when I started and there was silence and I thought I can't have this. I've got to step in.”

He said that while male players are now “starting to come up with really insightful opinions and opening up more”, it is not their “natural desire”.

“They don't want to show weakness in front of each other,” he said. “I guess I try to give them permission by showing them weaknesses I have, which I think is helpful. But sharing and opening up is not a natural thing for them to do.”

He admitted that he did not think he is a particularly good role model, as if he had an issue, he would sooner try to address it himself rather than tell others.

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