Leeds United have issues, says Oxford United sports psychotherapist and Whites fan Gary Bloom
Gary Bloom, a clinical psychotherapist, disagrees. Well, he would, wouldn’t he? But Bloom says he isn’t angling for a job at Elland Road. The TalkSport host and football commentator is already in work in the Football League, ensconced in the set-up at League One Oxford United.
Bloom says there’s a difference between what he does and what a sports psychologist does; he believes players’ off-field issues need as much work as on-field issues. There’s no quackery at play here, the NHS define psychotherapy as treatment that helps people to overcome stress, emotional and relationship problems or troublesome habits and Bloom is accredited by the UK Council for Psychotherapy and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.
He believes his work in the game has already borne fruit.
“I already work for Oxford United in this field,” he said. “Our results speak for themselves over the last 18 months. They were bottom of League One and now they’re pushing for promotion. I’m working with Premier League players, I’m up in the north west today working with an international who wants to get back to the very top.”
Bloom is a Leeds fan. Like many Leeds fans, he has concerns about his club and their ability to avoid a trap they fell into last season. But his pessimism is not just rooted in the club’s struggle to escape the Championship. There are psychological issues, in his opinion, preventing Leeds from getting what their play deserves.
“There’s a great saying my trainer said to me, that once is an accident, twice is a co-incidence and three times is a message,” he said. “We’ve had 18 games now where the same pattern of football arises. If you’re playing 18 games of football and the same thing happens, you have 30-plus chances per game and you are only getting a strike percentage of five per cent, something significant has gone wrong.
“I would say there’s a collective disbelief inside the team that this is going to be fixed. We’re doing the same thing over and over again. Something has to change. As human beings, if the same thing happens over and over again, we somehow have an innate belief it’s going to happen again.
“There’s no rhyme nor reason why Leeds can’t take 10 or 15 chances in a game, but there’s an inner belief that’s not going to happen. I would be wanting to know why [Patrick] Bamford takes 20 chances to score one or two. Look at how many times he only scores when his team are winning.”
Another issue is one few will refute – Bielsa himself recently cited a sense of doubt ‘around the team’.
“A much more worrying and deep-seated issue is that every season we don’t go up, the collective will of the fans at Elland Road becomes more and more frustrated, creating a greater pressure on the team.
“Unless you have individuals able to lead in difficult situations and ride out some really difficult psychological issues and unless you have someone in the club who can instruct them how to do that, why would you expect something different? The FA reckons there are four pillars of what it takes to be a great footballer. One is technical, one is how fit you are and we know Leeds is one of the fittest teams, the third is tactical, and I think we have some of the highest tactical play I’ve ever seen at Elland Road and the fourth one is psychological. We’re only playing at 75 per cent, that’s our maximum. Those psychological issues are never dealt with.”
Bloom believes someone like him could help. But he doesn’t believe the current Leeds set-up would welcome that help.
“Could I solve the problems at Elland Road? I’d need a manager like I’ve got at Oxford in Karl Robinson who says get on with it,” he said. “That means being in the dressing room at 2.55pm, it means access all areas. Bielsa ain’t going to do that. He might be one of the best managers Leeds have ever had, but he has an iron grip.”
Without the intervention of someone qualified in his field, Bloom fears the worst and is only half joking when he says he’s keeping the play-off weekend free.
He hopes he’s wrong.
“I would be delighted to be proved wrong but I’d be surprised,” he said.
“The expectations of the fans mixed with the disappointment of the fans is quite a toxic mix. Imagine all the pressure without the success. Great if you’re winning, but the pressure those lads are under, they need help.
“I can’t think of any elite organisation paying that sort of money to their employees who wouldn’t say we need something around HR, the soft-skills side, to help these young men.
“You need what you might say someone like me, someone my supervisor would call a mother of a football club, saying let’s sit down and have a chat about it because something is not going right here.”