Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers: Help Leigh Griffiths find happiness

Forget the football, we are dealing with a human being. That message delivered by Brendan Rodgers yesterday as he fielded questions on when Leigh Griffiths might return as a player, spoke of the duty to see the 28-year-old merely as a person. And one in need.

Whatever has led to Griffiths having to stop doing what he loves in order to be the father he wants to be for his children he loves, may sadly be picked over and speculated on. Griffiths deserves better. He has an illness – whatever form that make take – which prevents him from coping, finding contentment.

Football is supposed to be now more enlightened in dealing with mental-health issues. Celtic’s desire to offer Griffiths the support and treatment he requires to overcome his personal issues is the first step to demonstrating that the game can be there for those stricken in a psychological sense, as much as any physical one.

Sign up to our Football newsletter

Sign up to our Football newsletter

Rodgers’ fervent hope is that Griffiths being dragged down to the low point where intervention became a necessity – he spoke of an “incident” bringing matters to a head – can ultimately almost come as some sort of relief.

Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths is taking indefinite leave to deal with personal issues. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

“It normally is. For guys who have issues and you ask them what their best day was and it’s when it all comes out,” said the Celtic manager. “I remember talking to a player who had huge gambling issues and, when I quizzed him on what was the best feeling, he said it was when his wife caught him because that finished it and he could start to make himself better. Until that point he was living a lie.

“Sometimes that can be your life. Now once it is out there, hopefully, it can draw a line under the issues for Leigh, and the club, players, fans can all support him and give him time to become better.

“Leigh is coming out of football for a little while. He needs professional help with issues which have been ongoing with him for quite some time. He is coming out of that football environment and, as a club, we will look to do everything we can to help with that.

“There is no period set, really, it’s just time and we will see how it goes. Most important is that he is the father of five children and it’s just giving him enough time to make himself right and feel good and better. What’s most important is Leigh’s welfare. Football is irrelevant if he is struggling in other areas. The most important thing is to help him find the consistent happiness that allows him to then progress.

“It’s a case of time, really. There have been lots of issues around Leigh and it’s something he has felt and we want to support him and help him professionally. It’s a number of issues. Normally people with those issues have more than one and it snowballs into other aspects of their lives. Listen, I’m not a specialist. But I’ve been around it long enough to see a trend in behaviours and I also know the pressures of football at huge clubs and what the demands of that are.”

Griffiths is a quirky, likeable character, with impulses that, in his day job, have tended to lead him to say what he thinks – often online – and act with a bit of devilment. Yet few who encounter him do not warm to him. There have been a number of occasions where Rodgers has seemed to question his lifestyle, but the fact that he was recently given a new four-year deal when patently all was not well behind the scenes, speaks both of his rare goalscoring ability and the fact that he has a manager who could see beyond any flaws.

Griffiths was derided for calling off from the Scotland squad last month for the decisive Nations League double header and has had his professionalism questioned over his absences with a series of injuries. Rodgers contends that these difficulties might now be considered in a different light.

“It is hard and now people can trace it back,” he said. “But people don’t know – they only judge on what they see or what they are told. Hopefully this can draw a line under a lot of issues that have affected him and we can get the specialists involved to help him and allow him to get himself back and find happiness again.

“There are lots of pressures on young players with the introduction of all the social media and the spotlight is on them even more. Years ago you could make mistakes. Now it’s as if you can’t make them.

“People see football players with money and the public associate that with everything being all right, but that’s not always the case. Footballers aren’t robots. They are young guys who still have issues – it’s just that they are very, very talented. If you’re talking about sheer talent, then that’s what Leigh has and he’s a great guy. He is what he is. I love that about him. He’s a little rogue, he’s cunning. If there’s a different or short way to do it, he’ll do it. But I like that in players at times. Lots of supporters will relate to him.

“He’s a big talent, who has unfortunately suffered over a period of time. We’re hoping we can help him here and get him back to doing what he does best, which is enjoying his life and being a father to his kids, and showing his talent on the football field.

“There will be players who don’t have his nature and have issues. But I have a lot of time for him and he’s a great boy and we have spoken in confidence many times about a number of aspects of his life.

“But, like I say, you are trying to give them the football tools and the life skills, so that they can focus when the pressure is on but also to focus for when it all finishes. What you have here is 
a vulnerable guy but who is a special 
talent.

”My experience tells me that what is most important is the person. Forget Leigh Griffiths the football player, the ignorance that is shown towards other aspects of his life. It’s him as a human being. Help him find that happiness and then life looks a lot brighter.”

Mental illness is something that touches all manner of people, in all walks of life. Rodgers believes there has been progress in sufferers no longer feeling stigmatised, but that those in sport operating under the glare of a intense public spotlight can shoulder a particular burden

“It’s something that’s more open,” he said. “For men, in years gone by, talking about these things was viewed as a weakness. At least now that’s been broken and it’s no 
longer a weakness.

“And whatever actions that take place, there is genuine help there, instead of it being brushed under the carpet. Just because you are a talented sportsman, doesn’t mean you are not vulnerable. In my experience of working daily for 25 years, sometimes the higher-profile players can be the most vulnerable.

“Because of the expectations, there’s so much more to lose. The guys who have been given great talent, they are not immune because they earn X amount of pounds.

“They are as open to any issues as the regular guy on the street. As a society there’s much more done now to help these kinds of struggles.”

The message Rodgers has for Griffiths in the here and now is a simple one: “Just get away from football, don’t even think about it if you can, just rest. Let’s get you on the path to recovery.”

It must be hoped that Griffiths is given the space, and crucially the privacy, to be allowed to do that.