The new Premier League season is almost upon us, and Sean Dyche’s side will be hoping for a little more success than the last time out. Avoiding relegation by the skin of their teeth, the boys in blue will be hoping to provide a standard of football worthy of the new stadium being built this season. That will only be achieved if everything goes well – summer recruitment, pre-season fixtures and player conditioning. Arnaut Danjuma and Ashley Young will add some strength to the team, whilst pre-season wins against Stoke and Wigan will help morale. That leaves one aspect to cover – player conditioning.
It’s very much the unseen art behind a football club. Since 1995, when Arsene Wenger turned up at Arsenal, player conditioning has taken centre stage in the English game. The fittest players and hardest working teams can often achieve much more than the quality of their players suggests; Sean Dyche proved this by keeping Burnley in the top flight for five seasons, and now he’s aiming to do better at Goodison.
How is this achieved? We pull back the curtain and find quotes and advice from some of the key figures behind the scenes.
“We set about trying to raise the standards of food in the club, from the first team all the way down to the academy.”
Lloyd Parker is the lead nutritionist at the club, and following his arrival in 2016, he set about changing the way the team ate. He observed that the restaurant was very much like a school canteen, but as the team prepares for the 2023/24 season, things are very different. Players who might have put a few pounds on over the summer will have tailored weight loss programmes, each with specific foods they may enjoy, balanced with what they need. New signings, such as Danjuma, will be used to different cuisine than Mason Holgate, who has always played in the UK. This means different tastes but the same nutritional requirement, and an expansive kitchen at the club’s Finch Farm base caters to that. Good programmes will ensure a balance between taste and requirements to ensure players are happy and enjoy their pre-season meals.
“I think now there is a lot more outside noise about supplements around the players.”
The image of players popping pills might fuel misconceptions, but as the 2023/24 looms large, it is likely every Premier League club will oversee players doing just that. Parker explains how players are now exposed to supplements by friends and colleagues, even from other sports. His background was in rugby, and their use is more common there, something he’s leaned on during his tenure at Finch Farm. What sort of supplements will players take? Players often use turmeric to combat joint pain and protect cells from damage, whilst whey protein, multivitamins, and yerba mate are all popular. Much like the dietary plans, each course of supplements will be tailored to specific players.
“Initially the players had quite a lot of freedom in how they exercised but now we are more specific, in terms of the period of time they’re running and work-to-rest times. We are individualising the programmes to a greater degree and each member of fitness staff is overseeing a small group of players.”
Danny Donachie is the former Director of Medical Service, and he continued the personalisation theme when discussing the player’s individual loads before his departure. The term ‘player load’ feels new in football, but it is standard across clubs with a strong sports science department. Each player will have different requirements, much like people you see down your local gym will be working on different aspects. With a club like Everton, those players are working towards a goal, match fitness, but their journey may be different. All of the players will have a programme tailored to their needs through the summer and will be on different fitness paths. Ashley Young, a new face and veteran, will be managed differently from someone like Jarrad Branthwaite, who is younger and has been out on loan for much of his time at the club.
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