Trainers on the importance of physical conditioning

Sports scientist Neil Clarke and injury prevention specialist Matt Radcliffe have been in India for over two months now, helping the FC Pune City players with their mental and physical training. The two speak on various aspects of Indian football, its players and the areas they need to focus on.

Neil Clarke with the FC Pune City players during a warm-up session. "Staying mentally strong is very important because the bar of competition is rising with each passing day, and there will definitely be a lot of pressure, but staying strong and resilient is the key," says the sports scientist.   -  ISL/ SPORTZPICS

Neil Clarke and Matt Radcliffe brought in a wealth of English Premier League experience to the Indian Super League, experience gained from working with clubs like Manchester United, Manchester City, West Ham FC and Southampton. As the chief of Sports Science at FC Pune City, Clarke, the Head of Medicine and Sports Science at Crawley Town FC and the University of Greenwich, imparted the knowledge of modern sports science to the Pune club.

Radcliffe, with his knowledge and experience as an injury prevention specialist, assisted the coach and former England World Cup player, David Platt.

Having spent months in India in their specialised roles, the two shared their views on various aspects of Indian football with Sportstar.

Excerpts

Question: What prompted you to come to India? Did you have any idea of Indian football before coming here?

Matt Radcliffe: India is like the sleeping giant of world football, the next host of the Under-17 World Cup (2017). The country has a tremendous potential of producing world-class footballers. It was through Indian Super League that I was introduced to Indian football. The inaugural edition was a huge success and it made the right noises back in Europe. Having known David (Platt) since long, we had discussed the prospect of teaming up again and working for FC Pune City. Now that I am here working in India and understanding the nuances of Indian football, I hope I can contribute to my utmost best and groom them to be physically and mentally more efficient.

What is your impression of Indian footballers vis-a-vis the ISL?

MR: The Indian boys are very hard working and eager to learn. ISL is a great platform for them to showcase their talent to the world. This being the fourth most watched football league in the world, the Indian players would definitely want to prove a point or two through the tournament. The dedication of the Indian lot is just impeccable; all they need is the correct guidance and mentors who can direct them on the right path.

The country has never really made it big in the sport. The best that India did was to win the gold medal at the Asian Games in 1951 and 1962, and finish fourth at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. The national team has achieved nothing much since then. Being a body-contact sport, do you think the Indians do not have the physique and the resourcefulness to compete with the Europeans or the Africans?

Neil Clarke: Well, I don’t think it’s got to do anything with build or physicality. Look at the Chinese, Japanese or the Koreans, they are shorter and don’t necessarily possess an intimidating body structure like that of the Europeans or Africans. But they have dished out sterling performances across various sports and have acquired top positions in the Olympic tables. Possessing a good build always gives an edge, but at the end of the day, it’s also about the skills you possess and the zeal to succeed in the sport.

Let’s take football, Lionel Messi is unarguably the best player in the world and doesn’t necessarily possess a big build to scare his opponents. But he has been sending shivers down the oppositions’ spine merely by his game-play and the skill-set he possesses. Physical conditioning has become very important in contact sports today and it has become imperative for athletes to be assisted by specialists. I am sure the Indian football federation is adapting to the constant change in technicalities of world football and preparing their players accordingly.

 

The ISL is seen as a tournament that would change Indian football for the better. Do your share this view? If so, why?

NC: Of course, the League can definitely turn the tables for Indian football; the management, players, operations, every aspect of the tournament is top notch. The Indian boys are sharing the dressing room with some of the finest players in the world, and playing alongside the world’s best will give them the much-needed experience. I am actually astonished by the fact that how well the Indian Super League has managed to carve a niche for itself in just a couple of years. This League is only going to get better in the coming years and is going to do a world of good for all the budding talent in the country. I quite like the efforts made at the grassroots also. Results will only show if there is a strong academy system in place with emphasis on tapping talents at an early stage.

Having seen and interacted with Indian players, what improvements do you think are necessary to take them to the big leagues of the world, say for instance, the EPL, La Liga or the Bundesliga?

MR: It is about staying focused, mentally strong and maintaining top-notch physical levels. It does get difficult on professional athletes to keep performing with a lot of gusto and not having favourable results. That’s when they have to stay strong and persevere for bigger and better things. Football in India is still at a very nascent stage, but it’s definitely on the right course. The growth of the sport will depend on the progress of the Indian players, the League and the national team, who all are carrying the baton forward. With the Indian Super League, it’s a great opportunity for the players to keep themselves physically fit, because this League is very challenging and the format is such that you just can’t afford to be not 100 per cent fit. It’s a long-term process but it is definitely not impossible. The League is like a gateway for the Indian footballers to make it big on the global stage. They just need to keep working hard and stay disciplined and the big leagues and clubs will come knocking.

Finally, as a sports scientist and having worked with the top clubs of the world, what according to you are the areas where Indian football needs to develop?

NC: Well, every professional athlete must concentrate on three very essential aspects — first is fitness levels, second is lifestyle and nutrition and third is mental conditioning, which has become imperative in today’s era of competitive sport. The Indian boys are on a learning curve and through their respective ISL clubs they are getting a lot of personal attention with regard to their fitness and nutrition which will make them better players for the future. All the players are very disciplined and dedicated towards their task and that’s a very positive sign. Staying mentally strong is again very important because the bar of competition is rising with each passing day and there will definitely be a lot of pressure, but staying strong and resilient is the key.

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