Ryan Giggs has opened up on the problems he faced both playing for, and after leaving, Manchester United.
The former Old Trafford winger spent 26 years at the club in different capacities, from player to Louis van Gaal’s assistant, and revealed via his Daily Telegraph column on Saturday that he had seen a psychiatrist to help him adapt to life after Man United.
The topic of mental health in football has come to the fore this week following the news that Aaron Lennon had been detained under the Mental Health Act, with a huge number of fellow footballers and clubs offering their support to the Everton player.
Giggs, while not attempting to guess as to what the underlying issue might be with Lennon, offered his own experiences of the mental struggle that footballers can experience on an almost daily basis:
“I have to admit that I never really enjoyed the games.
“There was too much at stake playing for United. Unless you were 3-0 up with 10 minutes to go you learned that football had a habit of tripping you up. It was never wise to look around and relax and to enjoy the moment.
“I do not know what has affected Aaron, but I always struggled in the periods I was out the team or playing badly.
“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?
“There might be 30 autograph requests over the course of the day, or 30 selfies. There might be none. There might just be nice things said. Or there might be aggro, and a harsh comment. It was the uncertainty about what the day held that got to me.
“Stress is something I learned to take seriously as a player and I can say that I struggled with the pressure at times, just as I worried about what it would be like when I finally stopped playing. And I guess, looking back, I have been one of the lucky ones.”
Giggs, who has been out of the game in a professional sense since leaving Man United last summer, has urged footballers to be open with their feelings as keeping it inside can be damaginf both to themselves and those around them:
“Institutionalised is a description I would apply to my life as a footballer at Manchester United.
“I had been there from the age of 14 to 42, and my life had been so distinctively shaped by the rhythm of life at Old Trafford that I realised, when it was coming to the end last year, I had to make some preparations for the change.
“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.
“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.”
Everton manager Ronald Koeman confirmed earlier this week that Lennon continues to receive the full support of the club, but reiterated earlier calls for privacy in the matter.