Last Updated: 01/12/18 9:53am
Anthony Knockaert has opened up on his battle against depression after the death of his father and the break-up of his marriage, praising the support he received from Brighton.
The 27-year-old was instrumental in leading the club to promotion to the Premier League for the first time in their history in 2017 but midway through the campaign he suffered the loss of his father Patrick due to stomach cancer.
Ahead of the Seagulls’ top-flight return Knockaert then split up with his wife, who returned to France with their toddler son and the Frenchman says his emotional struggles became apparent at the players’ Christmas party last year.
I felt like I was on the edge, staring into the abyss. I was afraid of what might happen.
“There was a moment when I began crying and I just couldn’t stop,” Knockaert told The Guardian.
Knockaert spoke to club captain Bruno, who in turn spoke to Brighton manager Chris Hughton before the Frenchman underwent a course of therapy with the club’s backing.
“I had to tell Bruno that I needed help, that nothing was going right in my life,” he said.
“That I didn’t know where it was all going to end if I didn’t talk about it. I felt like I was on the edge, staring into the abyss. I was afraid of what might happen.”
On the support he received from a psychologist, he added. “I think it saved me. It wasn’t immediate. It took time.
“But after three or four months I started to feel better and even though you must never get carried away I can honestly say that right now I feel back to my normal self. Happy.
“And I can see how it all came about – losing my Dad, the pending divorce, not seeing my little boy every day. It was impossible for me to concentrate on football. Impossible.
“I had dreamed of playing Premier League football but I was in no state to give the best of myself. It was depressing.
“People were criticising my performances, but they couldn’t know why I was struggling to perform.”
His father passed away suddenly but Knockaert’s teammates showed their solidarity when Steve Sidwell celebrated a winner against Bristol City in the Championship by holding aloft the player’s shirt before the squad attended the funeral.
“What happened on the day of the funeral is something I will never forget,” he added.
“And it shows what an amazing club Brighton is and what great people I have had around me. I knew Bruno and the coach were coming over because Bruno, who’s been a great friend to me, called to ask for the address. I was really touched that the coach and the captain were going to be there to represent Brighton.
“The ceremony was in Leers, a little town near Lille. When I got to the church I looked up and saw a coach parked there. And getting off the bus, one after the other, all in smart suits, were all my teammates. It was unreal. Extraordinary.
“The players had come over the night before, they’d slept in a nearby town, everybody had made the effort to be there, to show their affection for my dad and to support me. It was breathtaking. I couldn’t believe it. It was an unforgettable moment for me and my family.
“I can’t imagine having better teammates or a better manager. Everybody at the club was looking after me from then on, making sure I didn’t go under. The fans were amazing, too. And my wife, my friends, my family.”