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Total fitness from the land of Total Football

Craig Bellamy graphic

By John Sinnott

Nearly 40 years after Netherlands legends Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff unleashed Total Football on an unexpecting world, along comes a Dutchman espousing a new philosophy - periodisation.

If it is a concept that is unlikely to ever acquire Total Football's sexy cache, Raymond Verheijen believes periodisation - in essence a less is more approach to training - is important in allowing clubs to protect their key asset - players.

The 39-year-old Verheijen has an impressive pedigree.

He worked with Guus Hiddink, Frank Rijkaard, Louis van Gaal and Dick Advocaat at three World Cups and three European Championships with Netherlands, Russia and Korea, as well as with the Korean national team at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.

Rijkaard also used Verheijen when he coached Barcelona, as did Hiddink when he managed Chelsea, while Advocaat used the 39-year-old fitness expert when he was in charge of Zenit St Petersburg.

A lot of coaches treat players the same way, whatever their age, whatever their body composition, whatever their injury history, whatever their playing position

Raymond Verheijen

Former Manchester City boss Mark Hughes also turned to Verheijen at the start of the 2009-2010 season and Craig Bellamy has been so impressed by the Dutchman that he now pays to work with him at his own expense.

"The objective of periodisation is to play every game with your best 11 players," Verheijen told BBC Sport during an hour-long interview, following a presentation at the UKSEM sports medicine conference at the end of last month.

"First of all because you want to win and secondly because the fans deserve to see the best players."

The idea that you start every game with your best team sounds like common sense.

But a look at the statistics shows that it does not always happen, even though it is estimated that up to 70% of Premier League clubs are using computer and medical analysis to measure player performance and fatigue levels.

The website physioroom.com's Premier League injury table on the weekend of 4-5 December recorded there were 108 top-flight players out of action.

On average, that is 5.4 players for each Premier League team or a fifth of each club's designated 25-man squad, with Aston Villa and Tottenham each having as many as 11 players on the treatment table over the weekend.

Guus Hiddink
Verheijen has worked extensively with Guus Hiddink

It is not just in England that clubs are having to juggle their resources due to injury. On the weekend of 20-21 November, 124 players were unavailable to play in Italy's Serie A due to injury.

Since former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez took charge at Inter Milan, the Italian champions have come under particular scrutiny.

Up to 28 November, Inter had 37 injuries this season, it meant that those injured players missed a total of 68 games.

Before Inter played Spurs in the Champions League on 2 November, Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport identified 15 muscle-related injuries that had affected Inter players since the start of the 2009-10 campaign.

"All teams have injuries," Benitez said. "We have a certain amount of muscle-related injuries but 40% of them were picked up on national team duty. Also, 85% of them are recurring from last year."

But for Verheijen, injury clusters demand closer analysis.

He believes as many as 80% of injuries are preventable, arguing that fatigue due to overtraining is the cause, pointing out that 14 of the 23-man 2010 Dutch World Cup have already been injured this season.

"World Cup players start the pre-season fit but fatigued," stated Verheijen, whose football career was cut short by a hip injury. "So there is no need for fitness training in pre-season as this results in even more fatigue and, eventually, injuries due to a loss of coordination and control.

"People make training so important that it is like survival of the fittest and at the end of the week when you have a game you see who is left and say OK we will play with these 11 players."

Verheijen, who has a Uefa A coaching licence, argues that too many fitness coaches are not from a football background and do not fully understand the sport and its relationship to training and preparation.

"Coaches should take the games as a starting point and build training sessions around them so players can fully recover and start the next match fresh," he added.

"They are afraid their team will not be fit enough for the start of the season. However, with this 'high injury-risk' training regime - subconsciously - they make fitness development more important than team development."

Bellamy, who after leaving City continued to work with Verheijen at Cardiff, is a convert.

Arjen Robben
Last season Robben benefited from cutting down on the volume of training

"Last season at Manchester City I really felt great and Verheijen played a big part in this," Bellamy told a Feyenoord fan magazine in October.

"In the past, I used to train at 100mph until I was exhausted. No wonder I always broke down halfway through the season. I always thought this was a logical consequence of my playing style and I even started training harder when I was not fit."

Periodisation has been around as nearly as long as Total Football.

Developed by Russian researcher Leo Matveev, it is an approach designed to prevent overtraining and result in peak performance.

Most clubs would claim that their fitness regimes are designed to achieve that aim, but Verheijen suspects it is not happening enough.

"If football is an intensity sport, then less is more and you have to focus on the quality of training instead of the quantity," stated Verheijen, whose bête noire is double-training sessions.

"Doing two sessions a day in pre-season...I really I don't understand, because all you are doing is exhausting your players," added Verheijen, who believes different types of players - young players who have just joined the first-team or experienced defenders - should each be following specialised training plans.

"By doing one session a day with maximum intensity, when you come to November and December your players will be much fitter and fresher than they are normally are with the traditional approach."

Both Bellamy and Carlos Tevez were vocal critics of City manager Roberto Mancini's insistence on weekly double training sessions last season.

Within 10 days of Mancini taking over from Hughes in December 2009, Joleon Lescott, Sylvinho, Roque Santa Cruz, Stephen Ireland, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Micah Richards and Nigel De Jong all picked up injuries.

"That was amateur stuff," said Verheijen.

"You take over a team that has the best statistics in the Premier League in terms of work rate - the most sprints - and you have the best injury record, based on a quality approach: one session a day, with maximum intensity that is no longer than 90 minutes.

VERHEIJEN'S TRACK RECORD
World Cup 1998: Netherlands defender Winston Bogarde broke leg in training
Euro 2000: Netherlands defender Jaap Stam pulled hamstring during shooting after training
World Cup 2002: No injuries with Korea side that reached semi-finals
Euro 2004: No injuries with Netherlands squad
World Cup 2006: No injuries with Korea squad
Euro 2008: Russia striker Pavel Pogrebnyak injured by tackle in preparation game against Serbia
World Cup 2010: Central defender Kwak Tae Hwi injured by tackle in preparation game against Belarus

"Then you take over and you start doing two sessions, each session two hours long, which is totally the opposite."

City insist those injuries were due to a glut of games over the Christmas period last season.

"Injuries are inevitable in this period for any club," said a City spokesman in a statement.

"Sylvinho, De Jong, Santa Cruz, Wright-Phillips were all fit for the 4-1 win at home to Blackburn on 11 January - Mancini's first league game after the 10-day period mentioned.

"Lescott and Richards had injury problems both before and after Mancini's arrival last December, so attributing those problems to his arrival is also unfair," added the spokesman, pointing out that City have only one player - Emmanuel Adebayor - who is injured at the moment.

When Verheijen worked with Rijkaard at Barcelona and Hughes at Manchester City, his ideas were initially greeted with scepticism by the players.

None more so than Bellamy, who was so distrustful that he kept a training diary over six weeks during pre-season ahead of the 2009-2010 season so he could argue that Verheijen had been wrong.

"He wrote the diary to kill us with it afterwards," said Verheijen. "But after six weeks it was the first pre-season that he did not get injured in his career."

Verheijen, who has also studied exercise physiology and sport psychology as well as taking a one-year Science in Football course, is not without his critics. Craig Duncan, head of human performance at Sydney FC, argues a reduction in training is not always positive.

"A problem is that there needs to be more corrective work to decrease the risk of injury through faulty movement patterns," Duncan commented.

"Specific strength training also needs to be incorporated as does flexibility and I have also had positive results from yoga.

"This is all supplementary work to work completed on the pitch. Recovery strategies also need to be enhanced so we don't necessarily have to train less just train smarter."

Other critics of Verheijen argue that his almost injury-free record is distorted by primarily working with international teams and also as a consultant.

606: DEBATE

Verheijen admits it is more difficult being a consultant but still firmly believes his methods are better than those employed by most coaches.

"A lot of coaches treat all the players the same way, whatever their age, whatever their body composition, whatever their injury history, whatever their playing position - everybody is doing the same training," Verheijen said.

"The culture in football is you either train or you don't train and there is nothing in between."

It is a culture he has spent his career trying to change and he will continue to preach his gospel to the unconverted.



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see also
Training plan 'revived Bellamy'
06 Dec 10 |  Cardiff
Man City ditch Hughes for Mancini
19 Dec 09 |  Man City
Damned lies, statistics and sabermetrics
03 Nov 10 |  Liverpool
Benitez hits back at Hodgson jibe
01 Nov 10 |  Europe


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