| Rooney during a football match
London, Dec. 17: Wayne Rooney’s reputation goes before him. It is this rather than his ball skills that makes the first impact on other players and could be key to him wrong-footing defenders.
Psychologists at the University of Wales in Bangor found that merely being shown a photograph of the Manchester United and England striker is enough to leave people with impaired control over their feet.
Professor Steven Tipper, from the university’s centre for clinical and cognitive neuroscience, said: “It was a very surprising result, as we were expecting that images of famous athletes would enhance people’s own skills.
“It turned out to be an inhibitory process. When people look at others they automatically compare themselves and realise they are not that good — it creates a negative effect.
“It could certainly explain why some professional players choke up and don’t play nearly as well as they could if they think they are not as good as the person in front of them.”
Professor Tipper believes the effect could explain how strikers can find it impossible to score against certain goalkeepers.
The reputation built up by players such as Michael Owen, Theo Walcott and David Beckham as youngsters helped them blow away the opposition in their first fully-fledged matches.
“The reputation of their skills has been built up to the point that it leaves those they are facing in some doubt.”
The study, which is published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, examined the hand and foot reaction times of 40 students when they were asked to identify famous sports people.
When shown a photo of Rooney, their finger response was faster than their foot response. Shown a picture of Tim Henman, however, their foot response was quicker. The researchers hope to study elite sportsmen to find whether the effect is the same.
Ken Bray, a soccer science expert at Bath University, agreed that the psychological state of a player could have a major impact on their performance.
“For a good performance you need psychological arousal and even elite athletes need to reach that peak level of arousal to execute that skill perfectly.
“If you take a player who is facing Rooney and knows his reputation, it is very damaging psychologically if you can’t reach the right level of arousal. The England goalkeeper David James uses a huge amount of mental preparation before a game and if he is brought on without this he can have a terrible game.
“There have been plenty of examples of young players like Theo Walcott who came through the ranks as young players with no preconceptions and his performances were tremendous.”