Leeds United need expert help on dealing with mind games - Sue Smith

Leeds United goalkeeper Kiko Casilla: Costly errors.
Leeds United goalkeeper Kiko Casilla: Costly errors.
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I was really surprised when I heard Leeds United do not employ a sports psychologist.

Their form is faltering and a big part of that has to be psychological.

Sheffield Wednesday's form has slumped since injury ruled out top scorer Steven Fletcher. (Picture: Steve Ellis)

Sheffield Wednesday's form has slumped since injury ruled out top scorer Steven Fletcher. (Picture: Steve Ellis)

December’s Cardiff City game seems to have been the turning point. They were absolutely dominant that day, only to draw 3-3 in a game they were leading 3-0. That is when I think they needed a sports psychologist to tell them it was a blip and give them confidence they could turn it around.

When I played for Leeds United Ladies, we had people coming in and out to see us, mainly university students, but with England we had someone we could contact at any time – even when not on international duty.

With me, as a winger, it was often about switching in and out of games. I would have a 10-minute spell where I could not get past my full-back, then try to do something more spectacular.

Some players do not take to the idea, but I was always of the opinion that if I could find that extra one per cent, it was worth doing.

I know from experience how unbelievable Leeds fans are. It makes it a great club to play for but you can imagine the expectation and pressure on the men would get to anybody.

Sue Smith

Psychology is part of the art of management, which is probably why Marcelo Bielsa thinks he should handle it, but, as a player, I would never go to my coach and admit I was struggling mentally because I would be worried they would drop me.

I know from experience how unbelievable Leeds fans are. When we played in cup finals, there would be bus-loads of fans of the men’s team supporting us because we were Leeds, so they really wanted to see us do well.

It makes it a great club to play for but you can imagine the expectation and pressure on the men would get to anybody.

When they were top and flying, it will have worked in their favour, but you can just feel a nervousness when things are not going well and they are a goal down, as they have been in their last eight matches.

It is even a factor away from home, they take so many fans. There is a tension in the air.

When you dominate and concede first, that can be so difficult as a player because you think: ‘How has that happened?’ even though there is still time to get back into the game.

The players are certainly good enough, they just have to believe.

The other thing I wonder about is the lack of rotation. Bielsa likes to stick with the same team and I am in no place to tell a coach of his quality how to do his job, but I know from a player’s perspective that while you always want to play, if you are continuously having bad games you need to be taken out of the firing line and given a kick up the backside.

Bielsa has gone the other way, announcing on Thursday that goalkeeper Kiko Casilla will face Bristol City today despite his recent costly errors.

If you were his deputy, Illan Meslier, you would see the number of mistakes Casilla is making and thinking: ‘Now this must be my chance,’ so to be overlooked must be dispiriting.

At the other end of the field, Patrick Bamford works so hard but misses more chances than he scores.

Whether Jean-Kevin Augustin is the answer or not, I do not know, but if Leeds had Ollie Watkins or Aleksandar Mitrovic in their team, I believe they would be top of the Championship.

Things have been tough for Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday, too, after losing key goalscorers in January.

The Tigers sold their two best players, Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki, and that was always going to have an impact on those left behind.

If I had been a player who helped her team into a position where they were challenging for the play-offs, I would want to stay and try to see the job through, like Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish did when Tottenham Hotspur showed interest in him.

Others would argue you have to take the opportunity when it comes along, but I think it would still be there in the summer.

Some Hull players will have lost their best mate, and all have lost their go-to men on the pitch. Some raise their levels, as Chelsea’s players did when Eden Hazard left, but collectively they are struggling. Again, it is psychological.

It has been similar with the Owls since their top-scorer, Steven Fletcher, picked up a serious injury.

They responded by winning their next game at Elland Road, but in the long-term, he was always going to be a miss.

You can be physically on top of your game, but if you are not right mentally, football can be a struggle.