Jack Ross on managing Chris Maguire's talent and the post-Burton chat that helped coax him back to form
Right from the early stages of pre-season, Chris Maguire's displays marked him out as a savvy piece of business.
He had endured a wretched year at Bury and so a few eyebrows were raised when the Black Cats brought him on a free.
But his quality was quickly evident and he was key to Sunderland’s impressive early showings.
A nice change for the Black Cats to coax a player back to form after a poor spell, rather than the other way round.
Those levels dipped a touch and with competition for places increasing, Jack Ross took him out of the side.
He has roared back since then and was outstanding in the 4-1 win against Rochdale.
The pressure of returning players has perhaps helped focus minds but Ross believes a bit of reassurance has helped, too.
“I was never really concerned about our relationship [after dropping him].
“I put a lot of effort into that with all the players.
“We spoke post-Burton, and he understood, he knew he’d been off it a little bit.
“He also knew he’d been good when he came on, but it is important for him to hear that from me.
“That understanding then comes that if he keeps that up then that’s him back in the team.
“It sounds so simplistic but it doesn’t always happen. Players can think, ‘where am I?’. ‘I think I played well but is he unconvinced, am I really in his plans?’
“There’s nothing wrong with that bit of reassurance and even though someone like Chris will show a certain amount of cockiness on the pitch, it’s amazing how much they need that bit of support off it. “
Maguire may frustrate his manager at times but he is thankful to have a player with obvious mental strength.
“He’s a good player,” Ross said.
“He’s technically very good and I’ve known that for a long time because I played against him when he was coming through at Aberdeen.
“He drives me nuts in training but he can’t half produce it on matchdays.
“That’s just how he is, you have to manage different characters. Part of your evolution as a manager is kind of coming away from the idea that you need the same kind of player doing the same kind of thing every day.
“You have to have that little bit of give and take and times, but I certianly think he thrives from playing alongside good players and I think he thrives on our environment.
“He was never going to wilt, he’s got that little bit of swagger and confidence you find from the west coast of Scotland, that ‘I’m a good player, give me the ball and I’ll do what I do’.
“With him and Aiden, they have that side to their game that you can’t put into players. A natural flair and ability, vision, some players just have that.
“You just have to encourage them do keep doing the other parts of the game, but that mental capability of being able to deal with pressure is really difficult to instil in a player.
“Some players just have that and i think he has shown that. If you look at his career he’s probably thrived in times when the pressure has been greater.
“He seems to respond to that.”
The hope for Ross is that the form of Maguire can have a knock-on effect to those players he is now keeping out of the side.
The signs last weekend on that front were encouraging.
“I said post-Burton that I thought it was the strongest squad we had had, so I was disappointed with the manner of the performance,” Ross said.
“I think you saw on Saturday though that understanding from players that if they don’t play well, there’s other options.
“Chris was a good example of that because his performance level against Rochdale was very, very good.
“You saw that [competition] against Rochdale, I know the game was already won but even at Burton, those who came off the bench made positive contributions.
“Saturday was very different, but Jerome, Aiden and Bryan were all it.
“It’s not always easy coming on as a sub in any game, I always found it really tough as a player. I really wasn’t great at it.
“But that hunger was evident in all three.
“Jerome worked so hard, we couldn’t have asked any more.”