From Maguire to Rutter - how do you build confidence?

Expert view
Expert view

Adam Pope, BBC Radio Leeds

Club captain Liam Cooper, Whites' academy product and England international Kalvin Phillips as well as current striker Georginio Rutter have and do suffer from vilification.

Scapegoating of players is nothing new but England manager Gareth Southgate was resolute in his defence of centre-back Harry Maguire in the aftermath of his own-goal in the 3-1 defeat of Scotland at Hampden Park this week. Maguire has been pilloried in some quarters for his performances for both club and country, but Southgate hit back at the out-of-favour Manchester United defender.

Southgate said: "This boy has been integral to one of the most successful periods in English football. He's played every game, He's played when he's not been in the rhythm of playing for his club at times. It's a joke, an absolute joke, I've never known a player treated the way he has been."

So why do we need scapegoats or someone to blame for all that is perceived to be wrong? Dr Gillian Cook is a senior lecturer in sports psychology at Liverpool's John Moores University. She told BBC Radio Leeds: "When our team isn't playing how we like them to play we can feel frustrated and angry. It can help us feel an awful lot better about ourselves if we push all those negative emotions onto an individual.

"One element that absolutely impacts on players potentially becoming scapegoats can be when they've been bought for vast sums of money, so potentially the club's record signing.

"That comes with an awful lot of expectation. Supporters and people around the club expect a lot from that individual and if expectations aren't met then that can come with an awful lot of scrutiny and highlight a lot of things that are going wrong. Then you get a self-fulfilling prophecy."

The plight of United striker Rutter, 21, can be aligned with Cook's observations. After arriving in a deal which could rise to £35m he has scored one goal in 18 appearances.

"Fans start to think about a player's mistakes, which are completely normal in every game, but when fans are primed to spot a particular player's mistakes then that's all they remember from that particular game," adds Cook.

"They don't remember the great passes, the great tackles, the great runs, they just remember the negatives. That can create its own narrative which people keep focusing on. When you get into a blame game it can have a huge effect on a player's confidence.

"It's particularly important to keep confidence high because that's the number one factor as it influences performance.

"That's why I was really pleased with Gareth Southgate coming out and backing Harry Maguire and saying how well he'd been playing for England because that is really ramping up the praise, encouragement and the confidence from a source that Harry will trust."

Leeds fans will not be particularly fussed I dare say as to what a player from Old Trafford will be going through but every club has a target individual at different moments. So how does the victim learn to cope?

"One of the main factors in sport is being resilient, dealing with adversity," says Cook. "So when you work with these players you have to normalise the experience that it will be difficult and that it's very normal."

It will be interesting to see how United manager Daniel Farke, who has persisted with Rutter to date, manages to rebuild the Frenchman's confidence starting at Millwall on Sunday.

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