Everton’s players return to pre season training this week to be put through their paces by Dave Billows and his sports science team as the infamously gruelling pre season programme commences. To gauge what’s involved in the process, EB spoke with Ross from @UKPhysiotherapy to get some more detail on what this entails and how it will potentially change under new boss Roberto Martinez, who himself is a qualified physiotherapist.
1. Generally, in terms of performance, how crucial an edge can pre season give both in the short term and in the latter stages of the season?
The closed season and pre-season are crucial to players, not just in terms of making a good start like we did at home to Man U but in terms of longevity and not suffering injuries or fatigue later on in the season. There’s a lot more science and preparation involved now than just taking the teams to Wales for the week to run up and down sand-dunes. Pre-season is the time players get their cardiovascular fitness levels back and also train to get the right amount of strength and conditioning in their muscles to cope with the demands of the fast paced Premier League games.
From a football point of view I think players get to know their teammates and the style of play if they’re allowed a full pre-season with each other. It’s not just about learning the style of play though, it’s then allowing the medical team to monitor a player’s progress so a change or tweak can be made to training regimes of individual players to help them become more physically suited to that style of play.
I suppose an example of this is under Walter Smith, the centre halves thigh muscles needed a lot more strength work to deal with the amount of long balls they needed to hoof up the pitch all season long! Under Moyes, as Mirallas found out, he needed to fill out a bit more and work on that extra bit of fitness so he could ‘track back’. I hope under Martinez, our team keeps the same level of intensity but pre-season will focus on ball retention, skill and any fitness work is done with an attacking mindset.
It’s no coincidence that players who we’ve signed late in August or have suffered an injury forcing them out of pre-season don’t tend to last the season. Players like Baines, Jagielka, Distin (even at his age), Howard, Osman and Pienaar played a lot of games for us last year and all managed a full pre-season. None of them suffered long term injuries.
2. injuries and fatigue was a constant issue for Mirallas last season, missing a chunk of the season due to knocks and he was withdrawn over 90% of the games he started. Can a full pre season help remedy his ailments?
It’s not just pre-season that’s important for Kev but the closed season as well. I don’t think he was quite ready for the pace and physicality of the prem last year hence why he had time out with a recurring hamstring injury. Although we’d seen his skill and pace in a few tasty You Tube clips, a lot more consistency was expected of him at Goodison and he also needed to fit in to Moyes’ work ethic and the defensive unit. I don’t think his hamstrings could quite take it. Hopefully over the closed season the medical staff have given him a comprehensive strength, balance and flexibility routine to make sure his hamstrings are strong. Then once he’s back in pre-season and he starts his trickery and puts more force through his knees again his hamstring problems won’t hamper him next season. I think Mirallas is going to be our key man next year so getting his preparations right will be crucial to how successful we are.
‘Swansea only lost 6 players to muscular injuries in 2012/13, one of the lowest in the Premier League. However their average of 37 days recovery was one of the highest, second only to Everton (53 days)‘ Source: www.physioroom.com
3.In the past, players like Saha have been critical of the emphasis placed on fitness in our pre season sessions at the expense of ball work. Does he have a point and does this make players more susceptible to injury?
I’m a big believer that training should be functional. It used to be pre-season was some sadistic ritual to just make the players throw up maybe to enforce some kind of discipline. Moyes was guilty of this with his installation of ‘the hill’ at Finch Farm and taking them off to Austria for hill running where the oxygen levels are lower. I’d understand this method of training if you wanted your players to be good hill runners but we need them to be good at football. Martinez, himself has a physio degree (I’m reliably informed) so I think he will take a more scientific approach to pre-season than Moyes. It’s well known the fitter you are the better your touch is on the ball so surely getting fitter whilst practising on the ball will give you better results? I still think Moyes took an old school approach to pre-season and I’m sure Unsworth once said they were worn out heading into the start of the season.
There was a club I worked at once that used to take the players running up and down sand-dunes in Wales as part of pre-season. Three crucial 1st team players ended up missing the start of the season because of hernias caused by hill running. It never makes sense to me to get players to do hill running to get fit when you play a game all season on a flat pitch.
Although I’m not sure what the best thing with Saha was because it didn’t matter what sort of training you did with him. The rumour why Ferguson binned him at Man U was because he only ever declared himself at most as 80% fit.
4. Last year’s pre season was heralded as a contributory factor in us bucking the trend of starting the season slowly. One of the differentials was not travelling to the states as we had done in previous seasons. This year we are going back to the US for the ICC trophy. Does travelling such long distances have a negative impact on a performance athlete’s body short term? Or is this a load of guff?!
Total guff I reckon. We’ve seen plenty of players around the world all perform well despite travelling. Man U often spend pre-season on the other side of the globe yet they seem to keep winning trophies. It’s hard to say but I think the reason we started better was because after the Euros and summer internationals, a lot of our better players missed that gruelling fitness camp running up hills in Austria. They weren’t already knackered heading in to the new season. Don’t get me wrong, fitness is very important but having watched so many crap starts to the season, I think Moyes’ way of doing it left a lot to be desired.
‘Wigan lost 1281 days to injuries in 12/13, the second most in the league behind Newcastle (1745). In contrast, Everton (714) lost the 5th fewest days, with Stoke (496)losing the fewest’ Source: www.physioroom.com
5. Pundits often talk of players needing to ‘get a good pre season under their belt’ but does it have any impact if you are, say Gibson who breaks down in game 3 like he did vs WBA last season? Does this in essence mean you are back to square one fitness wise?
Gibson is a bit different because I think his thigh problem is going to be one of those things that’s going to plague him throughout his career. I think the medical staff at Man U must have suspected this hence why they gave us such a talented player on the cheap. There may be something that can be sorted over the closed season and pre-season but he had a full pre-season last year and still broke down. The good thing from a physio’s point of view is you do get a lot of time in pre-season to work with players and make sure they get fit. Often during the season you don’t get that luxury, all you’re doing is patching them up to make sure they can play the next game.
6. On the subject of Gibson, his long standing injuries are a real concern. How does this impact his performance and recovery? His portly midriff indicates he finds it hard to train between games?
I hate players who can’t keep themselves fit. If any of us were in such a privileged position as Gibson then 90% of us would at least stay in peak shape. I remember watching James Beattie blowing out of his arse at home to Charlton after 20 minutes and I’ve never forgiven him for that. There are other ways of training with an injury and watching your diet to make sure once you’re injury free you come back quicker. Ricky Hatton is a classic example. If he’d have looked after himself more in between fights, he’d have found it easier to train for fights and maybe he’d have prolonged his career.
I don’t think there’s a sure fire way to get players and teams ready for the new season. If I could crack that I’d be a multi-millionaire. It seems you can think you’ve got it sorted because you win your first few games but then after Christmas the players are all knackered. Apart from last season, I’ve always thought we looked lacidasical and our decision making and even touch on the ball was lacking. Maybe Moyes did more ball work with them last year. But Man U have been renowned for poor starts so even Ferguson didn’t know his best way of preparing his team. I suppose even though we might hope Martinez might apply a more scientific approach and get the best out of his players, his Wigan sides have been shocking at the start of each season so who knows what we can expect!
Ross is a an avid evertonian and resident physiotherapist for UK Physiotherapy. You can follow him on Twitter here
For any grassroots players or coaches embarking on pre season in the coming weeks there is a highly recommended six week pre season diet and fitness schedule available to download from the coaching zone of the blog.