Dermot Desmond brought in a psychologist after Celtic-Ferencvaros; has it worked?

By Euan Davidson

December 10, 2020

Celtic’s majority shareholder Dermot Desmond brought in a sports psychologist after the Bhoys’ defeat against Ferencvaros.

The loss to the Hungarian side meant that once again, Celtic failed to qualify for the Champions League. Bringing in mental health support was a move that Desmond discussed with The Athletic during a rare interview.

In his pre-match comments to the press, Neil Lennon heralded the approach (Daily Record)

“A psychologist comes in two times a month.

“The players have been having individual conference calls as well.

“They’ve been working away on a one-to-one basis at times.”


Confidence has been a problem for Celtic / (Photo by Alan Harvey/SNS Group via Getty Images)


The modern approach

Most large workplaces of any kind have some kind of mandatory Mental Health support. Whether that’s having a Mental Health First Aider on hand, or in-house therapy. In 2020, it’s a big part of how companies liaise with staff.

So, it’s definitely not uncommon. Neil Lennon had previously told Sky Sports that adding new dimensions of player support was a priority in in the run-up to the 20-21 season.

In quotes from September, Lennon said:

“But we’re still looking to try and improve as best we can and if that means looking at the psychological side of it, then we will.

“I spoke to Dermot, I spoke to Peter (Lawwell, chief executive) I spoke to the board, we’ve covered all aspects from the bosses upstairs. It can be individually or it can be as a group.”

On the website Training Ground Guru, Dr Andy Hill spoke about the culture of Sports Psychology as a necessary part of modern coaching.

Dr Hill made a particularly salient point in his article that refers to Celtic’s current situation:

“When [sports psychologists] receive any attention in the press, it tends to be because it has been “revealed” that a player has been “seeing” us. When was the last time you read about a player “seeing” a strength and conditioning coach?

“By building robust performance methods with players and improving a coach’s ability to shape a player’s behaviours, players become more consistent performers and have better relationships with their coaches.

There’s work around team dynamics, which mean helping teams and staff to better understand themselves and each other and create space for the necessary friction required within high-performing teams. As a result, staff teams and playing squads communicate more effectively and align better with common values and objectives, coming together to create a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.”


Celtic lost against Ferencvaros / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

How this applies to Celtic

Dr Hill is spot on: it shouldn’t be a big story. In recent years, strides have been made to eliminate the stigma around treatment of Mental Health. There are, however, still some who don’t view psychology as an integral part of team-building and coaching.

For Celtic, the signs of anxiety and lack of confidence are abundant to anyone watching. Against A.C. Milan, a 2 goal lead became a 4-2 loss. Against Ross County, the players clearly lacked the drive we’ve seen in the past. The pressure of 10-in-a-row has clearly got to these players.

So, if anything, should Celtic fans be concerned that it took until 2020 to hire a permanent sports psychologist?

With Celtic conquering everything before them domestically, you could argue that the Celtic players didn’t “need’ one-to-one therapy or group work.

It was just the culture of winning that informed player morale, surely?

But that’s not how it works. Even the best, most consistent players in the world can have problems. The football pitch can be a lonely place whether or not you’re winning.

Against Ferencvaros, the pressure on the players told. By any metric, Celtic should have won that game. We should be in the Champions League.

Dermot Desmond / (Photo by Ross Parker/SNS Group via Getty Images)

A drop in standards

Much has been made of lowering standards at Celtic. From the transfer market to the managerial selection process, fans have been aghast as the club have lurched from one big decision to the next.

When Celtic had a modern, forward-thinking coach in Brendan Rodgers, surely they had someone who understood sports psychology? If so, why weren’t there in-house facilities at that point?

The fact that this is a new concept for Celtic should be a huge concern.

Perhaps Desmond and Lawwell waited too long to make this change. We’re seeing the effects of pressure and mental strain on this Celtic side. Leads are being given away. Sloppy defending has come from poor levels of concentration. There’s a lack of sharpness and freedom to this Celtic side.

The move to hire a permanent sports psychologist was a good one by Dermot Desmond. But it came far, far too late. We’re seeing the effects of that now.