Aaron Lennon’s breakdown is a much needed wake-up call for football

Ben Mountain

The Everton and England winger, Aaron Lennon, was detained by police under the Mental Health Act for a condition deemed dangerous to his welfare. Unsurprisingly, it is reportedly stress-related. Having grown up in the world of football, is it any wonder? It should be a serious wake-up call for the sport.

First things first, we don’t want to comment much about Lennon himself. Only those that know him personally are able to do that properly. So for us to try would be unfair and unjust.

What we can comment on is the current state of the wider footballing scene. The pressures, stresses and abuse that are part and parcel of a modern footballer’s life and are commonplace today.

Sadly, these pressures come from almost all walks of the footballing world. The fans, managers, fellow players and, perhaps most importantly, the media, all exert unwavering pressure on the lives of footballers across clubs.

Take, for example, the abuse that showers every unfortunate player that suffers shaping up to take a corner. Okay, they are expecting it. They’re used to hearing all sorts of insults as the next generic, overweight and unhappy football fan vents their fury at the bloke they’ve paid to watch.

Whilst we’re not defending it, fan frustration is hardly surprising. Given the vast sums of money we’re now expected to pay in order to watch the so-called ‘working man’s game’, it’s no wonder that said generic unhappy fan sees the overpaid primma-donna in front of them as whatever the chosen insult of the day is. And worse.

But, more worryingly, the unrelenting criticism and condemnation of the press can surely only serve to fuel both paranoia and stress in this industry. Whilst the majority of players say they don’t read the back pages, the vast pressure of the press ensures that managers must be ruthless in their selection and training and thus, for those who don’t make the cut, the axe is ever-waiting.

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But what does football do to protect those it hangs out to dry after building their aspirations and hopes so high? For the thousands of children dropped by academies each year, to the ‘wonder boy’ who eventually succumbs to being booed at Wycombe or Tranmere, the very system of development in football is pressurised and flawed.

The players who do make it have to work their backsides off. So much so that many of them will lapse academically. If they didn’t break into the football scene, they’d have nothing to fall back on.

What a terrifying position.

It’s the financially-driven, point-demanding and clinical brutality of the footballing industry that exerts suffocating pressure upon footballers from their very first days in the industry. And where does this pressure come from? The baiting press, who await with open jaws to savage the next failure for their headline.

Of course, we, the fans, read the papers. Subsequently, we take on their expectations. Naturally, this leads to a two-pronged attack whereby the mainstream media dictate to millions of passionate fans how to focus their anger; there’s no escaping it.

Underachievement is not acceptable in football. Period.

Following on from Aaron Lennon’s breakdown, we have not only seen a great big feast of the gossip-hungry vultures who edit Britain’s tabloids, but some sickening semi-attacks on Lennon himself.

The Daily Mail, for example, are not sympathising with the winger, seemingly due to his wage package.

They continued, describing Lennon as “tracksuited” and in a “precarious situation”. We’ll leave the implications to you.

But even worse still, Lennon has been consistently described as “the 30-year-old” across the media today. Furthermore, his absence from the Everton team since February 11th has apparently been decided to be of paramount importance.

Why? Because Lennon is no longer the high-flying England star he used to be. He’s not in the top six and, yes, this season he has been underwhelming. Have the media chosen to overlook it? To consider his condition and situation? You’re joking.

Aaron Lennon is just another failing, overpaid footballer who doesn’t merit the shirt he wears and so, naturally, we should lambast him to the point of a breakdown and then refuse to express any sympathy.

This was embodied by the charming Daily Express, who ran with the online headline of “Aaron Lennon sectioned: What is Mental Health Act? Who is supporting him?”.

Who is supporting him? Not the English media who once sang his name from the rooftops as a young, up and coming England star, that’s for sure.

It’s a saddening indictment of the current state of English football’s relationship with the media. The two multi-billion pound industries rub off each other. The media promotes and glorifies football for the cost of ripping into their player of choice, exposing them to the world as failures and then leaving them out to dry.

The result? Aaron Lennon.

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Should we be even remotely surprised at his breakdown? Not at all. When you consider the fan, manager and player pressures exerted on players like him – who never quite lit up the league – it’s no wonder that stress-related illnesses culminate in tragedies such as this.

Should we instead be expressing sympathy and care? Absolutely. This is a glimmer of a chance to change the mounting pressure of the footballing industry. At the very least, it’s a reason to cast doubt over the heartless vindication of players in the media.

We have to turn Lennon’s situation into a way to change football. With mental health being a more prevalent issue than ever, let’s harness the power of football to make a difference. If this global sport shows the right level of support for Lennon, regardless of the media using it to cash-in and lambaste, the entire country could be witness to the wonderful effects of this sport.

And, given the clearly sorrowful effects as shown, that is very much needed right now.

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