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Why Manchester United appointed a sports psychologist

Manchester United's appointment of a psychologist shows that athletes need mental wellness as well as high fitness and sporting skills 

Manchester United's interim manager Ralf Rangnick. (AFP)

Ralf Rangnick announced on Tuesday that Manchester United had appointed a sports sport psychologist to ensure the players "think in the right way". The 63-year-old German, who has been named interim manager until the end of the season, kicked off his time in the hot-seat with a 1-0 win against Crystal Palace on Sunday.

Rangnick has confirmed that Chris Armas, the former New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC manager, will be joining United as assistant coach, with Sascha Lense coming in as sport psychologist. "In Germany in the last couple of years, most clubs have employed a sports psychologist or mental coach, whatever you would like to call them," Rangnick said.

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"For me, it is absolutely logical. I even had somebody like this, Hans-Dieter Hermann, the current sport psychologist of the German national team, back in 1998 in Ulm. We were probably the first club in Germany who had ever employed a sport psychologist.

"For me, it's only a question of logic. I mean, if you have special coaches for goalkeeping, physical education, even for strikers, fitness, whatever, you also should have an expert for the brain."

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Rangnick, who replaced the sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, spoke at his unveiling about the need to "train the brain" and believes the new coaching arrivals will aid the transition to his way of working. "It's about gaining confidence, believing in the way that we are playing," he said. "The players have to buy in. I can tell them whatever I want, I need to convince them, I have to get into their hearts, into their brains, into their blood."

Man United aren't the first Premier League club to appoint a psychologist though. Their bitter rivals Liverpool have long boasted a highly regarded mental health support system under Rangnick's fellow German manager Jurgen Klopp. At Liverpool, psychologist Lee Richardson (hired in 2019), spends three days every week at the club's training ground, focussing on one-on-one sessions with the players. Some of the other so-called ‘Big Six’ clubs in the Premier League too have highly-regarded sports psychology set-ups. The recent success of clubs like Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea are a testimony to this. 

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  • FIRST PUBLISHED
    10.12.2021 | 10:00 AM IST
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