After up to six weeks away from football, clubs welcome their players back with a rigorous routine designed to ensure each individual is fit and raring to go once the season kicks off in August.
Yet, many clubs find themselves beset by injuries before a ball has even been kicked in earnest and Wales assistant manager Raymond Verheijen, believes he knows the reason why.
The Dutch coach is a firm advocate of the Periodisation approach, whereby a player’s fitness and conditioning schedule is tailored specifically to their individual needs and built up over a period of time. This is seemingly in stark contrast to the methods employed by many Premiership clubs, who favour a much more intense initial approach.
Certainly, the system at Everton, Manchester United and Newcastle United seems to place a high emphasis on brutal running sessions, which form part of two or three sessions per day. Everton’s captain Phil Neville, tweeting recently from the club’s training camp in the Austrian hills, divulged details of each training period, with a typical day consisting of an 8am bike ride, football mid-morning, followed by a hard running and upper body weight circuit in the afternoon. Life at Manchester United, according to Rio Ferdinand, is similar; a double session in a day typically consisting of football and ‘lung-opening’ running, while Joey Barton’s day involves circuit training and running.
In a recent article printed in the Daily Mail, Neville explained that players now have to stick to a regime during the summer break and the days of arriving for pre-season training out of shape are a thing of the past. So why are clubs still so hell-bent on running their players into the ground on their return?
Verheijen believes too many coaches and managers still rely on the methods used in their own playing days and adhere too strictly to traditional rituals. But with football evolving so much in recent years, surely there should be a change in mindset and a broader outlook?
Dutch club Feyenoord have worked closely with Verheijen and this pre-season have embraced the Periodisation approach. Instead of kick-starting training with the hardest sessions, the club has increased the load gradually over three weeks, ensuring players develop their fitness at a suitable pace, but also reducing the risk of unnecessary injuries. The key principle is to avoid the accumulation of fatigue. So far, 22 days into the schedule, Feyenoord can boast an injury-free squad and recorded a 5-0 victory over Barendrecht on Saturday. It won’t be fool-proof, but so far, so good.
Ahead of the opening day last season, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Wigan Athletic and West Bromwich Albion were the only Premiership teams injury-free (excluding long-term injuries) following their pre-season programme, potentially highlighting a more progressive approach within these clubs. Of the remaining 16 teams, Arsenal and Sunderland had the highest number of casualties, while several clubs had players reporting back from International duty with knocks. Interestingly, many of those players reportedly carrying injuries actually featured for their clubs in some capacity in the first fixture.
Verheijen anticipates several players reporting for duty ahead of Wales’ friendly against Australia in Cardiff on 10th August tired and injured and predicts many Premiership clubs will have between 6-10 injured players by September/ October, saying it is a pattern which repeats itself every season.
Evidently the research is still in the early stages and therefore many managers and coaches are reluctant to make wholesale changes. Wales manager Gary Speed clearly believes in the system endorsed by Verheijen and the pair plan to work closely with the national team in an attempt to bring about a much-needed change in fortune on the pitch. If they can reap the rewards, maybe it will encourage more to follow their lead.