The likes of Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero of Manchester City are playing at a frantic pace around the ninety minute mark making life miserable for the opposition defenders in the EPL. And if you watch EPL matches, most teams play at that pace only. This obviously begs a question- How on earth do these footballers develop such astounding levels of fitness?
Sitting thousand miles away, it is not easy to unravel the mystery. However, my research and through YouTube video evidence, it is clear that the foundation stone is laid around the 9-10 years age mark.
All clubs around Europe have academies or nurseries. The infrastructure itself shows how research driven and extensive it is. Talented kids go through a medical screening process for detection of any health issue.
Remember Lionel Messi was diagnosed with a growth hormone issue at the age of 11 that needed huge medical expense. It was borne by Barcelona. At the age of 15 Cristiano Ronaldo had a heart surgery to fix his racing heart issue. These talents could blossom since it was diagnosed early. Tests such as bone mineral density, Dexascan, Eco-cardioraphy, EMG and complete blood count are mandatory for the academy boys.
Empowered by the medical data, the strength and conditioning coach conducts some relevant fitness tests to ascertain the strength and conditioning level of the kids. Body weight squat and body weight squat jumps would reveal the leg strength. A 20 metre sprint will show speed within short distance.
With all these data in hand, the fitness coach unleashes a strength programme. In India a mental block very much exists that the 12-year-olds can’t lift weight. Lot of unscientific self-styled coaches preach that it will make the kids dwarf, make them body builders and so on.
Fact is, strength training with sub-maximal load, in common man’s word with light load only enhances bone mineral density, joint strength and muscle growth.
The gym in the academies in Europe would ensure that the kids grasp the strength exercises very early. By the time they are 14 or 15, trust me they have mastered the Olympic lifts for power. Olympic lifts are considered scaling the peak of strength training. One must remember on top of the gene, the Europeans inherit introduction to early strength programme which makes them supremely strong on the park.
In sharp contrast, strength training for the 12 or 13-year-old in India does not exist. May be in a few handful places both the knowledge and facility exists. In my gym, I experienced that some of the Indian footballers of 2014 didn’t have much clue about advanced strength training. Now think about the kids.
I was watching a Reliance sponsored school tournament in an open ground in Rabindra Sarovar, Kolkata. A complete dust bowl. Not a blade of grass in the ground. A pathetic playing surface to say the least. I went to Aizwal in the Northeast, the present supply line of Indian soccer. There is massive craze for soccer. But look at the grounds. Except for the Aizwal FC ground, every training ground was bumpy with rock hard red soil. Compare these grounds with the silken smooth surface of Manchester or Barcelona. The sheer sight of the ground will lure the kids to have a ball while the Aizwal ground might chase one away.
India needs to build quality grounds, not for seniors but nursery boys.
Finally the aspect of nutrition. The European kids thrive on a high protein diet. The amount they spend on diet is beyond imagination for the Indian clubs who are content to give the kids a bowl of stew and four pieces of bread. 1 gram of protein per kg body weight is something the dietary guideline says. Our kids do not get half of that. Deprived of milk, nuts and seeds, Indian kids are seriously denied from growth of muscle and bone. Let’s face it. If at all AIFF is honest, send the top club officials abroad and make them watch the infrastructure of the European nurseries. And make sure they apply it exactly the way AIFF says. Fact is this dream has never come true.
(Chinmoy Roy is a veteran fitness expert & trainer and has been associated in different capacities with Indian and Bengal cricket for decades)