Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino has praised Aaron Lennon, his former player, for shining a light on mental health issues and “inspiring people around the world” by returning to the Everton first team after being detained under the Mental Health Act in May.
Lennon was last year diagnosed with a stress-related illness and received treatment with the Priory Group before returning to play for Everton at the start of the season. The 30-year-old has made 18 appearances this season and has been a regular in the first team under Sam Allardyce.
On New Year’s Eve, Lennon posted a message on social media calling for anyone in need of support with their mental health to seek help and “believe the tough times are not over”, as they are not alone.
“Always when a public person like Aaron is talking so openly, it is always very helpful to many people around who might have the same problem,” said Pochettino, whose Tottenham side face Everton at Wembley on Saturday.
“The fact Aaron spoke publicly about the issue can inspire people around the world, through him or through his behaviour, to get some help. There are a lot of people ready to help with temporary mental issues so it is good for him to get the love from the fans and inspire people to get the same help and talk about it.”
Pochettino said these mental health issues are a problem for wider society as well as within football, adding: “Not everybody is strong enough to talk publicly about their own situation.”
Lennon was loaned to Everton in 2015, during Pochettino’s first season as Tottenham manager, and signed for the Merseyside club on a long-termdeal later that year having spent a decade in north London.
“He was always respectful and professional,” Pochettino said. “From the beginning he played, he was in the starting XI, and then I trusted in different players and then we changed the style of play of Tottenham and then started to use [Erik] Lamela and [Christian] Eriksen in the position.
“When a player is for a long period at the club he played for for nine or 10 years the player needed a different motivation and challenge. Sometimes you want players to stay but the player said: ‘No, Gaffer, I need to change, I need to wear different colours.' Everyone needs that. That is the problem sometimes. The players need new challenges, like managers. We are human.”
Tottenham, who currently trail fourth-placed Liverpool by four points, are unbeaten in 10 league meetings with Everton and will look to continue a run of form in which they have taken 16 points from the last seven league games, the second best run in the division behind leaders Manchester City.
Pochettino was coy about any potential transfer targets Tottenham may be looking at in the January transfer window, saying the difficulty of keeping moves “secret” was a problem for the club.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to keep secrets,” he said. “Sometimes you [the media] know before myself the player that we are going to sign. It’s true. That makes our job difficult, a club like Tottenham.
“Sometimes it is too difficult to stop all the rumours. It is frustrating for the club and of course for myself too because you cannot sign the player that you want. But OK, I assume that this is football and we cannot stop that.”