OVER the course of the next seven days we will be speaking to four members of Mark Hughes' backroom team to gauge an insight into what their roles at the Club entail.
First up today, we speak to a hugely valuable member of the team, Fitness Coach Damian Roden, and find out why the five or six weeks of pre-season are so important to the first team squad.
First of all, can you just explain the importance of the role you undertake, especially during pre-season when the lads are coming back in again following their summer breaks?
"It is important, but no more so than any of the other staff here. You have been out here [Germany] and seen how we operate together, we all have roles to play and we all have duties that we have to undertake on a daily basis. It isn't just one person dictating and the others following suit, it's the manager, the coaches and the medical and fitness team all putting the work in to make sure the lads are healthy, fit and available for the season ahead. We have to look at the lads as individuals and work out how best to manage them throughout the season. We look at when we feel we need to do a light intensity session with them, when we need to step it up a bit and when we do fitness work with them. At this time of year it is important to analyse everything and structure things out, such as building up the minutes the lads are having in the friendlies, and making sure they are ready to keep stepping it up as the start of the season draws closer."
What do the first weeks of pre-season entail then Damian?
"Obviously, it is important to ease the players in because we certainly don't want to fatigue them straight away. We will look at the lads as soon as they return from their breaks, just as we have done already, and then we will re-test them later on to see where they are at, to firstly make sure that the work we are doing with them is right, and to ensure they are progressing in the manner that we are expecting them too. The ultimate aim is to have every player available for every game that we play. If we do that then the manager will always have the strongest possible team available to him. Of course, that isn't always going to be the case, but that is what we set out to achieve."
How important is it to keep a regular eye on the fitness and well-being of the players?
"The medical team are constantly checking the players before any kind of work, to make sure they are always in balance - that is hugely important. We will do certain types of warm ups on different days. For example if it is the first day back after a game or if it is the first day back after a high intensity training day then it will always be a lighter session, whereas if it was a lighter session the day before then it will be more intensity in the session that we put on. It's on a cycle really, a light session, a hard session, a recovery session. You then repeat the cycle but gradually increase the intensity of it. We do that throughout the season, because we always aim to keep improving fitness levels from the start of pre-season right to the very last match of the season."
Is it fair to suggest that times seem to have changed from the day where pre-season was all about blitzing the players and sending them off on long distance runs for the first week or two?
"I think the way that myself and the manager have always worked, is try to apply common sense. Take football as the starting point - what are the demands of the modern day footballer? It isn't running up hills and it isn't running five miles at one pace. It is all about playing football and repeating high intensity movements, because that is the game. You don't have to plod around, you have to sprint, then recover, and then sprint again - no matter what position you are in."
I suppose with the work that you are doing with them, they are getting the right mixture of high intensity and recovery work, but at the same time everything they are doing is with a ball too, which is obviously important to you?
"The whole idea from our point of view is keeping the lads fresh. There are still clubs who flog lads to death, but a lot of the time you will see lads whose legs are popping, hamstrings are ripping and picking up injuries galore. It just doesn't make sense. A by-product of playing football is fitness, so we try and do everything through football, and they will get fit as a result of that."
Will you go back and analyse those tests that you did on the first day back at St George's, and maybe redo them to find out how the lads have progressed, and are progressing at different stages of the season?
"Yes we will do that. Those tests were structured so that we can reproduce them at any point in the season without causing injury, without fatiguing the players or without affecting what the manager wants to do out on the pitch. At any given time we are able to do the interval runs test, the jump, the body composition test and we can tell what impact the training is having on those parameters. We can then say we are on the right track and continue to plan in the same way, or we can re-evaluate things and make one or two adjustments to the work we are doing."
Generally speaking, is there a point in the season where you would expect the lads to reach their optimum fitness levels?
"There is no peak - there is a continual incline, because the way we go about our work, it is designed so that the lads become stronger and fitter as the season goes on. At the start of last season when we came in we spoke to the lads and told them that is the way we like to go about things. We like to gradually build up and build up and that is exactly what happened last season, whereby we enjoyed our best period over the last 15 games. That's not to say that we don't start playing until the last 15 games because we need to make sure we are where everybody else is at by the time the season starts, but then look to creep away from where everybody else is at, certainly from a physical perspective, because that will allow our playing style to come out more."
Keep an eye out online on Friday as we speak to goalkeeping coach Andy Quy about his role at the Club.