"Very hard on himself"; Celtic boss Neil Lennon opens up on player visits

By Euan Davidson

February 7, 2021

Celtic boss Neil Lennon has opened up on mental illness before [BBC].

Say what you like about him as a manager. As a person, he’s shown immense strength in the hyper-masculine world of men’s professional football.

In 2006, Lennon spoke about his mental health struggles in his autobiography, Man and Bhoy [Goodreads]. He’s been forthright on how it affected his life and his game. Feeling detached from his own experiences, low mood, lack of fight. It can affect literally anyone, and it’s the case for footballers, too.

While fronting a Mental Health Awareness campaign with See Me in 2016, Lennon opened up on the importance of communication [TFN]:

“People shouldn’t feel like they are on their own, because they’re not. There are plenty of people out there who will help you.

“In any walk of life, whether you’re an office manager, a bank manager, you’re the leader of a group of people at work or in any other walk of life then it is good to get up to speed with mental health, and if you notice it quickly then you can get someone back on track a lot quicker.

“If you see someone struggling, rather than being worried about saying the wrong thing, just ask them if they are okay.”

In an act of practicing what he preaches, Lennon has been (safely) visiting his players to check up on them. Most prominently, Shane Duffy, who has had an incredibly hard time in Glasgow thus far.

Shane Duffy has struggled on and off the pitch / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Celtic boss Neil Lennon backing Duffy through tough spell

In quotes attributed to the Scottish Sun, Celtic manager Neil Lennon claimed thats he was visiting his players’ houses for socially distanced check-ins. The boss spoke particularly about Ireland defender Shane Duffy, who dealt with the trauma of losing his father last year.

By moving to Celtic, Duffy has fulfilled his father’s dream. His poor form will be absolutely heartbreaking, as Duffy just hasn’t clicked in the Scottish Premiership.

Lennon said:

“I think he’s just found it difficult to settle. He’s up here on his own. Life away from the training ground is difficult for them all but especially the guys who are on their own.

“He will be the first to admit he hasn’t been as good or as consistent as he can be.

“He will be massively disappointed with that because of the way he feels about the club. But there is still time for him to find his best form between now and the end of the season.

“He’s been very self- analytical — to his detriment — and very hard on himself.

“He’s been getting a chorus of criticism from all and sundry. When you go home to an empty house that can be difficult to deal with.

“But we give him all the support we can and hopefully we will start seeing the best of him soon.”

Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths has talked about mental health / (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Footballers suffer, too

There are some who would point at the wages that footballers receive, and ask “How can they suffer from depression or anxiety?”. Ultimately, mental illness doesn’t discriminate, and it can affect anyone.

In Celtic manager Neil Lennon’s case, there were environmental factors that contributed, but that’s not why mental illness occurs. Depending on which school of thought you subscribe to, it can be chemical, in a person’s DNA, and occur naturally.

It also doesn’t necessarily mean random outbursts of sobbing. It can cause lack of focus and concentration, lack of self-belief and panicked decision making, amongst other symptoms.

So, it’s great to see Neil Lennon comforting his players on a one-to-one basis if he feels they need that extra support. All of us will need it at some stage, and it’s an employer’s job to step up to that mark. Kudos to the boss, here.

Again, you can criticise Lennon as a manger. We all have been, it’s impossible not to when there are glaring problems on the park. Credit where it’s due, though; he was brave enough to talk about his own struggles, and now he’s helping the players who need that support.

Talking of confidence: Lennon needs to rethink the number 1 jersey.