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Wenger Plays Roulette With Players & Arsenal's Training Is Wrong Claims Dutch Coach

The importance of networking between the fitness and football sections

Talking about Arsenal and their improvements at the medical department last time I wanted to give you an even better impression how things come together. That is why I want to present you a translation from a German column which impressed me last year. The article was written by Christoph Biermann on 10th of December 2014. The talking points are training methods and injuries and who are the pioneers in this subject. Hope you enjoy it!

Is training done the wrong way in the Bundesliga?

The top clubs in Europe have a problem – they train the wrong way. At least Netherlands fitness guru Raymond Verheijen is claiming this. 

Some years ago my compatriot Arjen Robben was reckoned as ‘the man made of glass’, because he had been out injured very often. His vulnerability was down to the fact that his coaches were not good enough. They did not understand that such explosive players as him have a different musculature. It does not get supplied with blood so well which means that the oxygen supply is worse and that it regenerates slower than by players with a good endurance level.

It is like a car which stands at a traffic light. If you make a racing start at a green light, you will burn more petrol. Robben does the same with his muscles' energy, and does not recover so fast. Back in the days at Chelsea I advised the coaching staff to reduce his training volume so that his musculature does not grow too weary because that's when players get injured more easily.

This is the case because the human nervous system works slower when it is tired and the signal from the brain takes longer to get to the muscle. This means that a football professional has a radical rising injury risk, because the player has less control over his body when playing at the limit.

He can twist his ankle or the anterior cruciate ligament more simply. Doing a rotary movement usually means that the muscles in the knee contract, keep it stable and protect it. Players can do it a million times in their careers unproblematically. If they are tired and the brain signal comes too late, the protection is gone and severe injuries can be the consequence.

80 per cent of injuries are preventable

At Chelsea my colleagues and I developed an individual periodisation of training for Arjen Robben to adapt to his burdens. Subsequently he had to struggle less with injuries. Meanwhile I think that 80 per cent of injuries in football are preventable through the right handling of training. Unfortunately football has not reached that level yet, even if the best coaches of the world are at work. I did work together with Louis van Gaal for the Netherlands national team and know; tactically only a few coaches are as good as him.

When the preparation for the World Cup in Brazil started it attracted attention already, how many Dutch players had muscle injuries: Rafael van der Vaart, Jonathan de Guzman, Robin van Persie, Leroy Fer, Nigel de Jong and Wesley Sneijder. With van Gaal ending his work as a national coach after the tournament and becoming coach of Manchester United afterwards, the same pattern continued. At the end of preparation (pre-season) almost a dozen of United players were injured.

Wenger and van Gaal play Russian Roulette with players

If you work for Manchester United, a lot of players took part in the World Cup and the club makes a summer tour to the United States as well, then the coach has to adapt his program to it. Van Gaal did not handle the external factors correctly, like the tiredness of many games, long journeys, jet lag and so forth. He has played Russian Roulette with the players' health. The same is valid to Arsène Wenger, who had nearly the same number of players out injured after the World Cup, among them Mesut Özil.

When the worlds' best coaches are incompetent on this question, what we can expect then from others? That many players, who were in Brazil, got injured after the World Cup, therefore you can provide an explanation. At the normal summer break, in which players have four, five or even six weeks of rest, they lose fitness, but at the same time revive from the previous season.

Dortmund Have A Sea Of Difficulties

They started the preparation with a low fitness level, but high freshness. The aim is consequently, to regain the fitness and to retain the freshness. The opposite is the case for the players, who have only two or three weeks break after big tournaments: their fitness is on a good level due to the tournament matches, but they are really tired. The most coaches nevertheless do also extended fitness training in their preparation. With two units of training a day they may improve their fitness, but the freshness will be missed. Definitely that leads to the described situation that through tiredness the proneness to injury rises.

Therefore players, who came back from a big tournament, basically had to get a completely different training to those who had a normal summer break. We call that individual periodisation. Most coaches do not know how it gets used in a modern way. Only a small group of fitness coaches were educated in a football specific environment. Put clearly; most football coaches do not understand fitness, and most fitness coaches do not understand football.

Too many are injured

I talked to many fitness coaches in the English Premier League and was shocked with the way they worked. In Germany many clubs see fitness as something which is isolated from football and have separate fitness coaches. They talk about it in the fitness language and not in the one of football. They really talk about aerobic capacity than saying to keep the 18-man squad in a good condition. It has dramatic consequences for the training. Whereas football coaches will consider fitness as part of the typical training routine.

I do not know, who is responsible for the work at Borussia Dortmund, but they have a sea of difficulties. The list of injured players is long, which is a big surprise to me. Two seasons ago the team nearly had no losses, they made it to the final in the Champions League and most of the time the same team played. I know that the club afterwards changed their fitness personnel; Oliver Bartlett has joined RB Salzburg and Roger Schmidt went to Bayer Leverkusen. To analyse it in detail, what went wrong at Dortmund, you had to be on-site. It is clear that something went wrong. The question is if Jürgen Klopp and Borussia Dortmund want to solve the problem. It will not work if they blame external factors. If they blame themselves then they have a chance.

The second day is the worst

Certainly you can have bad luck and the opponent targets your leg and it gets broken. Series of injuries nevertheless very often underlie the responsibility of the club. Overstressing of players is just halfway an excuse. I published a study two years ago, which contains around 27000 games in diverse European top leagues, the Champions League and Europa League over 10 years. Thereby I could prove lucidly that two days of convalescence are not satisfactory. As a consequence injury risk rises. Anyone who did sport himself knows that you are extremely tired on the second day after a high burden. The stiffness is noticeable, the body is at rock bottom. At this point a professional has to train again if he has a game on the third day to activate the engine. Players don't get a break when it is needed the most.

Chelsea and Bayern as pioneers

Aside from this problem, which many coaches try to solve with rotation, you have to take into consideration several characteristics of football. You only have to take a look onto the game's characteristics. The difference between a team on a high and low level is the tempo of their game. At a low level you have more time and space. Wherefore you perhaps have a second, you have to do it in a third of a second at a high level. Football is a game, in which intensity and swiftness of action are required, but not about endurance. The game on every level lasts for 90 minutes.

The problem is over-training

Training has to be top quality because football is an intense sport. Were it an endurance sport quantity would be the centre of training - you would train more and longer, like swimmers or athletes do. Referring to football you have to train better, shorter but with more intensity and on a high tempo. Ninety minutes per day of training is all a player needs to be 100 percent exhausted. Many clubs train twice a day and two times a day is not achievable. In the afternoon you will feel the training session from the morning and then you can not give 100 percent.

Clubs should educate their players to train at less than 100 percent and attain the converse effect from what they wanted to achieve. I know many football fans believe the players train too little but the problem in reality is they train too much.

The Swedish sports physician Jan Ekstrand pointed out in a detailed study at the behest of UEFA five years ago that the most injuries arise from pre-season where most clubs tend to do too much too fast. And with the season underway football stays a game and not a training sport. Athletes train often eight or nine months without a contest, in football however you have to play two or three times a week. The competition dominates and not the training. It is a fact, 90 minutes of football training of highest intensity is enough.

Mourinho and Guardiola work excellently

Meanwhile many sport scientists without football-specific background have captured the football. Players are examined with costly blood tests or the like. However much information you gather, the eye will get tired for the things which you really want to observe. Numbers and data can not describe how a player feels. Stop all the tests and ask the player, that is even more effective. Tests should only be done in confirmation of what you already believe.

Chelsea is a club today which worked very well in this respect. Jose Mourinho is doing fine in terms of periodisation. Pep Guardiola is also a very good coach, and Bayern Munich together with Chelsea had the fewest injured players for a long period in Europe. It will still take some years until the young generation of football-specific working fitness coaches will join the top clubs. They will be much better prepared to generate top fit players without injuries. And us fans will have even more joy with them.


The factor fitness work was underrated in the past and it looks as if it is changing slow-paced in European football. Arsenal did much to improve their understanding of fitness work in acquiring top fitness coaches in the recent past, among them the long-serving German national team fitness coach Shad Forsythe. As a consequence hopefully series of injuries and proneness of injuries can be reduced massively.


Tags: Wenger, Injuries, Fitness, Bayern, Dortmund, Chelsea, Mourinho, Shad Forsythe, Van Gaal, Verheijen, Coaching, Training, KNVB

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