Chris Smalling has admitted that he visits a sports psychologist twice a month in a bid to ensure he is able to cope with the rigours of playing for Manchester United.
The England international has been far and away one of the Red Devils’ best performers this term and his improvement on the pitch has pushed him into the realms of being a fan favourite.
Smalling visits psychologist
Indeed, the Smalling who commands United’s back four on a regular basis now is a polarising character to the one who was often found wanting prior to Louis van Gaal’s arrival.
Article continues below
He’s attributed the difference to frequent visits to a sports psychologist, where he works on combating the mental aspect of the game.
"I go see him [the psychologist] twice a month. A couple of hours each time," he revealed, in an interview with The Times.
Article continues below
"He was recommended through a friend. At first I was quite a sceptic. You picture it being for bad boys who need to be reformed. I thought, 'Well, I won't need that.'
"But it's not like that. Anyone can benefit. For me, it was a case of focusing. You can have so many different demands; trying to please the fans, pleasing the manager, please yourself.
Working to improve
"You can put too much pressure on yourself. You can start forcing balls, maybe trying too hard. You make things too complicated. It's about uncluttering the mind.
"We do a lot of visualisation in terms of future games, what's coming up. So if there's a big game against City in the week I will be visualising different things so I am not too hyped up.
"People might think it's all about getting up for a game but it's often the opposite.
"It makes sense to me. You work every day technically, physically but so much is in the mind. Look at when players go on big scoring runs, then stop scoring. It's not that they are any different physically, it's very often mental, confidence, concentration."
What’s more important to United fans, of course, isn’t necessarily how Smalling has gone about changing his form, but the fact that he undoubtedly has.
In his early beginnings at Old Trafford the hulking centre-back was questioned by fans, critics and the mainstream media for being an ill-advised purchase.
He’s still got some way to go before he’s thought of in the same bracket as the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, but he’s certainly on the right track.
Van Gaal appreciation
What’s more, the fans’ appreciation of his services appears to be echoed by Van Gaal in the dugout. The Dutchman - when not calling him Mike Smalling - has hinted that the 26-year-old could well become his next captain after Wayne Rooney steps down from the duty.
What a turnaround that would represent.
United fans, are you happy with Smalling? What do you think of his improvement? Let us know in the comments box below.