Burnley winger Aaron Lennon opens up about his darkest days and reveals that the switch to Turf Moor saved him
Aaron Lennon has been smiling for some time now. The expression etched on his face is glaringly conspicuous.
For months the change in his disposition and demeanour has been palpable, both on and off the pitch.
It's the sign of a player who has rediscovered his love for football and the sign of a man who has reclaimed his thirst for life.
The move to Burnley, 10 months ago to the day, was the catalyst for the upturn in his mental state. The switch to Turf Moor is the prevailing factor that saved him.
Asked if that was the case, the former England international said: "You could say that. To an extent, definitely.
"I fell out of love with football for a period of time and the move definitely gave me that lift again and I started to enjoy my football. From the moment I got here every day has been brilliant. I'm loving it.
"I met the gaffer and he was great, and from the moment I walked into this football club you could just feel something was right.
"It was an easy decision for me. As soon as I met the gaffer and a few of the lads, from the first day I knew I’d made the right choice to come here.
"It's the togetherness that the gaffer brings here to the club. It's a family. It's such a tight-knit group, the lads are really close.
"When I came in they made me feel so welcome. I can just enjoy my football, it's a great place."
Prior to the transfer the 31-year-old had been stuck in a dark place, unable to navigate his way to a safe haven.
He'd lost his way in the world, his enjoyment of the sport he'd been immersed in for most of his life had waned.
Lennon was detained under the Mental Health Act last April. He'd suffered in silence for some time.
But his turnaround has been nothing short of remarkable and now he can openly and confidently address the interrogation in to his condition.
The indirect psychotherapy is a form of catharsis, a feeling of liberation that has paved the way for others to talk about their troubles.
"There are probably a lot of footballers who don't want to come out and speak about it," he said. "It's just normal, there are going to be spells where you might not feel so great and there are going to be spells where you do feel great.
"Hopefully it does open the door for people to say that they're not okay and they're not feeling good because there's so much help out there.
"Hopefully I can be a good example to show that you can be going through a tough time but you can get back to where you want to be, enjoying football and enjoying life again.
“It is out there a lot more now and that’s great. There is a lot of help out there. Some players, like myself, keep it to themselves.
"I had lots of people around me who I didn’t turn to, but it’s just one of those things. Everyone is different.
"But you’d like to think that now there is a lot of help out there so if anyone is feeling that way they should speak out.
"No-one has come to me and asked for anything. I would 100% be willing to offer my advice. If anybody wanted to speak to me about anything I would be happy to help them."
Thankfully, the former Spurs and Everton winger feels he can now move on and fully focus on his career again.
Lennon was, for a time, the youngest player to appear in the Premier League when he made his debut for his hometown club, Leeds United, aged just 16 and 129 days.
Now in his 16th successive season at the top level, Lennon can perform without feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Just being out there is a huge triumph. "I never thought that I wouldn't play but there was a good spell where I wasn't enjoying football," he confirmed.
"I never really thought 'this is it, this is the end' but I wasn't enjoying it. I came here at the right time and everyone at the football club, the lads, the staff, have been great. I'm enjoying it.
"I just knew that I wasn't enjoying it at the time. My love for football never went, I just wasn't enjoying it.
"I watch football all the time when I'm not playing. It doesn't matter which league is on, I'd be watching it. There was just a long period of time when I wasn't enjoying it."
He added: “Touch wood I’ve been really good since. You learn a lot about yourself during those periods. I had to learn a lot about myself and take a look about myself.
"I feel great. It doesn’t cross my mind. You do look back at times and you think ‘Wow, I can’t believe I was in that place’. But I don’t really think about it that much anymore. I’m enjoying each day and getting on with it.
"I’ve got a great family and great friends. The clubs that I’ve been at have been fantastic for me. I see the only way as being up for me."