Paul Heckingbottom admitted that Ronaldo Vieira had been the victim of excessive expectation at Leeds United after the midfielder emerged from a low-key campaign with a bright display against Bolton Wanderers on Friday.
Heckingbottom claimed Vieira’s struggle to replicate a fine first season at Elland Road was partly down to the pressure created by his impressive impact as an unheralded teenager two years ago.
The England Under-20 international made an immediate leap into United’s first-team squad after signing his first professional deal at the age of 18, bypassing the Under-23s and figuring heavily under ex-head coach Garry Monk in the Championship last term.
Leeds responded to Vieira’s breakthrough by handing him a four-year contract when the 2016-17 season ended but form and fitness problems have restricted his development and his start in a 2-1 win over Bolton – brought on by the recurrence of a calf problem troubling Adam Forshaw – was only his 16th of the season.
Vieira’s inclusion paid off as a combative display and strong running from deep helped Leeds to record Heckingbottom’s second victory as head coach and the United boss said he would work to raise Vieira’s confidence without placing more pressure on him.
“That’s part of the problem,” Heckingbottom said. “He burst onto the scene and he’s got tremendous attributes and big potential but he’s got to learn about himself and about the game, about what’s required.
“That’s our job but sometimes when young players burst in like that, the pressure put on them is not necessary. It can be tough to handle when you’re already playing at a big club in a tough league, as a young person. Things like that can be handled well while still pushing him and demanding things from him. He still needs the support.” Vieira remains on the radar of England’s youth coaches and was called into the Under-20 squad for a friendly against Portugal at the start of last week but he has struggled to keep his place at Elland Road and took until the middle of October to start a Championship fixture under Heckingbottom’s predecessor, Thomas Christiansen.
The 19-year-old, however, showed signs of last season’s form against Bolton, featuring in the build-up to the winning goal claimed by Pablo Hernandez in the 50th minute.
“I wanted some legs in there in terms of pace and power,” Heckingbottom said. “He’s got all that and he set off really well, playing a great ball out to Gjanni (Alioski) in the first five minutes. I want him to be positive with his passes but then he turned four or five down. I spoke to him at half-time about it and said ‘trust yourself, do it.’ In second half, he hits the pass we’re talking about and we score from it.
“It’s that sort of belief I want to create because forget about results, forget about what’s happened in the past. You have to make the next one happen.”
He burst onto the scene and he’s got tremendous attributes and big potential but he’s got to learn about himself and about the game, about what’s required.Paul Heckingbottom on Ronaldo Vieira
Forshaw is expected to miss at least the next fortnight with an injury he was carrying when he signed from Middlesbrough for £3m in January. Heckingbottom revealed that the midfielder had been nursing that ailment through recent matches but had been forced onto the sidelines after a 2-1 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday before the international break.
Club captain Liam Cooper, meanwhile, is also back in the treatment room with a torn thigh muscle suffered following his return to training after a calf strain last week.