Jamie Murray: I visualise the crowd. Mental preparation is vital.

Jamie Murray has forged a successful career for himself on the tennis court; a Three-time Grand Slam mixed doubles winner, as well as reaching number one in the world.

Away from the court, the Scot is a passionate Red, and has been since the age of seven. It is clear from talking to him that his passion has not waned as a grown man. Jamie cites Sir Alex Ferguson as a big influence on him growing up, as he bought into the way in which his teams tried to play attacking football, not afraid to take risks. A stark contrast to what we have become accustomed to in recent times. Like the majority of Manchester United fans, Jamie had become frustrated with the methods of Jose Mourinho, and feels that the time was correct to say ‘Ta Ra’.

In my latest Red News contribution, Jamie and I talked about his visit to Carrington, meeting Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and of course, Jose Mourinho’s inevitable dismissal before the big man in Red (not Lukaku) did the rounds with rudolph. Moreover, he tells me about a funny encounter at Heathrow airport. Enjoy.

Morning Jamie. Tell us how you become a Manchester Utd fan and how hard is it to stay aware of how they are getting on with your schedule? 

Hi Jimmy. I probably started supporting Manchester United when I was around eight or nine years old.  At the time, they were the best team in the country, and they had this incredible Scottish manager leading them. As I got older, my passion for them continued to grow and Sir Alex Ferguson was a huge part of that; hands down, he is the man! I loved his passion, desire, commitment and on top of that, he had his teams playing such exciting football.  Every game they would play on their own terms – taking it to their opponents.  I imagine going to Old Trafford in those days you were always on the edge of your seat.  

What was your favourite Utd team? 

It’s tough to choose my favourite Man United team.  The ’99 team with David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs in midfield, and Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke up front when they won the treble will obviously go down in history. Having said that, in 2007/2008, that front trio of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez up front was off the charts! Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were eating strikers for breakfast and Michael Carrick and Scholes were pulling the strings in midfield. What a team.

What was it like visiting Carrington and meeting Zlatan? 

It was really cool to go to Carrington and get a look around. They have amazing facilities; everything you need as an athlete to get the best levels of performance out of yourself.  The medical facilities are incredible.  I couldn’t believe some of the equipment they had at their disposal in house.  

I was being shown around by the doctor and he took me into the physio room and Zlatan was getting treatment on his leg. It was a joke how big his legs were! I got this image in my head of the Cristiano Ronaldo photos you see where he has his shorts rolled up as he tenses his muscles, and I was thinking in that moment that Zlatan would crush you!

On his way to the training pitch he came to take a photo with me holding the United jersey with ‘Murray 1’ on the back. He looked at it and said ‘Number 1.  That’s what it’s all about.’ It was amazing to meet the squad and see them training, to be honest. I spoke to a few of the guys, and there were some I had met before. The longest chat I had was with Jose Mourinho!  He was fired up because they had just beaten Arsenal and their next league game was against City.

What I really like about the club – based on my experiences – is that even though it is one of the biggest in the world and the Man Utd brand is huge worldwide, the people working there are very much local people.  It still feels like it’s a community club.

Does Andy’s success at singles spur you on and is there friendly competition between you both to push each other? 

Andy and I are great supporters of each other, and we have always wanted each other to do the best we can in our careers.  His success inspired me to give more to my profession and dedicate myself more to my career in order to squeeze as much from my game as I possibly could. I see first-hand how much work he has put in to achieve what he’s achieved in the game, and I knew I would have to do similar if I wanted to taste anywhere near the same success he has.   

In terms of your own career, what would you say has been your biggest achievement? 

That’s a difficult one. Over the last few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have some incredible moments playing tennis, but I think the achievement I’m most proud of is reaching number 1 in the world. It takes a whole lifetime of work and sacrifice to try to reach the pinnacle of your sport and very few people get to do that, so it means a lot to me to say that I was the best doubles player in the world for a period of time.  

Do you think you get the credit you deserve for your successes in tennis? 

I don’t know if I get enough credit for my successes on a tennis court.  I don’t really think about it to be honest.  I accept that I’ll mostly be compared to Andy, but people are definitely more aware of me for my own career in the last few years rather than for being Andy Murrays brother. I will give you an example from a recent encounter in Heathrow. As I was checking in, the lady at the counter said, ‘oh! you’re Andy Murray’s brother!’ and turned to her colleague and said, ‘it’s Andy Murray’s brother!’.

At this point, I am smiling being polite whilst thinking, ‘that’s not what it says on the passport’. Then, the check in lady turns to me says, ‘he’s retired, hasn’t he?!’, to which I reply, ‘no, he is still going!’.

About ten minutes later, a guy comes up to me and says, ‘excuse me sir, but I think you are a fucking genius!’, shook my hand and walked off! So, to be honest, I get the full spectrum!

What have you made of Manchester Utd recently and what can be done to improve? 

It’s a strange time at United now.  The fans have been frustrated with what they see on the pitch most weeks. Neither Jose or the players seemed happy, really. Something had to give at some point because it couldn’t continue down that path for much longer.  Ed Woodward is in a difficult position because it doesn’t look good on him sacking another manager.  As well as that, it potentially may give the players a feeling of more power now that they have got rid of the manager.

Personally, as a fan of the football team, I just want to be entertained.  I don’t care if United finish 1st, 6th or 10th but when I watch the games, I want to enjoy it.  I want to be on the edge of my seat feeling that excitement – that adrenalin rush – that I’m seeing something special, or I’m about to witness something special. I’m not sure how many Manchester United fans have felt that over the last few years. 

What were your thoughts on United sacking Jose Mourinho? Was it the correct time for change? 

I don’t like to see people lose their jobs and I’m sure Jose Mourinho was giving everything he had to make the team successful but at the end of the day it just wasn’t working. The relationship between manager and players seemed to be at an all-time low and it appeared to be a toxic environment.  

Everything always seemed to be a fight with Jose; or at least that’s what we witnessed with the media.  I don’t know how it was on the training ground or around the club – I am just going on what I see in the media – but life shouldn’t be like that.  It can’t be a fun way to live and I can’t imagine it was particularly fun and inspiring to be around that attitude/mentality on a daily basis.  Where is the Jose Mourinho of 10 years ago that everybody loved?

The football being played was so uninspiring for the fans (and probably the players) and so far removed from what the fans have come to expect of Manchester United teams of the last 20-25years. Sports constantly evolves and all great coaches evolve with the game and are constantly seeking to take the game to the next level. Obviously, Jose Mourinho’s brand of football has been incredibly successful, but I don’t believe he has moved with the times, and I think that has held him back during his time at Old Trafford. 

For me, personally, I watch football to be entertained and that’s why I loved Manchester United. However, for the last four of five seasons it’s been dull and uninspiring. When was the last time the fans that turn up to watch the team every week could honestly say they were on the edge of their seats watching the team play?

What would you like to see going forward from United-on the pitch, and off the pitch? 

Going forward, I would love to see what would happen if you had a management team made up of former players of the club. Guys like Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes etc. These men know what it’s like to be in a winning team and to lead in a winning team. Also, they know how to run a successful dressing room and are obviously hugely passionate about the club still.  

Manchester United have a great squad that are massively underperforming. I don’t believe fans can really moan about the player group they have at their disposal in terms of their quality. If you can keep these quality players happy and motivated/inspired, and willing to run through a wall for you, then I believe that’s far more important than tactics. Do Alexis Sanchez, Anthony Martial or Marcus Rashford really need to be told exactly what to do when they receive a football? Give them freedom. 

In terms of the running of the club, which has been talked about over the last few months, it’s clear that Ed Woodward has done some amazing things on the commercial side of the club, yet perhaps lacks the expertise on the football side.  Part of being successful in a role like his is to know your strengths and weaknesses and then go out and source the right people to surround yourself with to create the best possible set up and environment to take the club forward.

As an athlete, you know how hard it is. Do you empathise with the criticism the Manchester United players have got recently?

I can’t imagine being a manager or a player in this country is easy! With the coverage football receives through the media, and the way some of the media are, it must bring a fair amount of stress!   What I do know is that if you are unhappy, then it is very difficult to perform to the level that is expected of you. That is true in any walk of life, but footballers are an easy target because of the money they earn.  They’re expected to turn up every Saturday at 3pm and perform to the best of their ability regardless of what is going on in their personal lives and if they don’t, fans and media are going to be all over them.

In terms of the psychology of sport, what do you think are the main challenges a modern athlete must overcome? 

So much of an athlete’s success in their career will come down to their mentality and their ability to perform under pressure. It’s easy to score a penalty on the training ground but can you do that in an FA Cup final with 80,000 fans screaming at you?  

I imagine players must make hundreds of decisions during a match and it’s a lot easier to get those decisions right if you are entering the game with a clear mind. So, I believe that mental preparation goes a long way to helping or hindering your performance on the field.   

What do you think is the biggest benefit of sports psychology?  

I think the mental skill of visualisation can be useful, particularly in the buildup to a game. In addition, I believe visualising the crowd, and the atmosphere in the stadium can be very beneficial. It can be useful to create a sense of familiarity about what you may encounter if you can see an image in your mind of your opponent, the moves/runs that opposing player is likely to make, as well as the sound of the ball when you strike in, and even so far as visualising the trajectory of the ball when you take a set piece. I think that is perhaps the biggest benefit. 

Of course, mental preparation is important, but physical preparation too is very important. Have you rested well enough? Have you eaten correctly? Have you done your recovery work in the day(s) leading up to the game – rehab, ice bath, massage, etc.

In my experience, my sense of calmness going into a match comes from ticking as many of those boxes as possible as well as the specific on court training that I believe to be important for the upcoming game. 

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