I'm the bloke who doesn’t drink on a Saturday night because I want to be fresh for Sunday morning’s titanic clash between Real Ale Madrid and Sporting Abeergut.
More after the break
So you can imagine how seriously I’m taking a training session with Premier League stalwart Brad Friedel at Tottenham’s new state-of-the-art facility.
With 82 caps for the United States and 443 Premier League appearances, Friedel is a highly experienced, finely-tuned athlete.
At the age of 42 he’s coming to the end of his distinguished career, but through the use of yoga and a disciplined lifestyle, the American goalkeeper has managed to prolong his playing days at the top level.
I, on the other hand, haven’t kicked a ball in more than four months. I was a useless clogger before my injury-hit sabbatical, let alone now with rust severely set in. And now, rather than ease myself back in to the kick-bollock-and-bite level I’m accustomed to, I’m going to train with a veteran of two World Cups. Gulp.
If that wasn’t humiliating enough, I’m doing it dressed head to toe in Tottenham gear. Under Armour, who kindly invited me along, have supplied a group of journalists and I with new training kit. As an Arsenal fan, I feel like a crossdresser stepping out in public for the first time.
Worst of all, I can’t help but admire the training facility. It feels like I’ve stepped aboard the Starship Enterprise. If this place doesn’t motivate you to be a better player every day, nothing will.
We hacks step out onto the 3G pitches, where Friedel awaits, like mutton dressed as lamb. This kit is built to hug the muscular physiques of Premier League footballers, not the muffin-top midriffs of snack-fuelled keyboard-botherers.
Luckily we won’t be throwing our weight around in a goalkeeping session, as Friedel is taking his UEFA A Licence and wants to test his coaching skills on a group of no-hopers.
“Coaching is something I’m looking to do after my playing career and I enjoy it,” he tells the group. “I work with Tottenham’s under-15s and 16s. John McDermott [Tottenham’s academy manager and head of coaching] has been a fantastic mentor.
“I’m still a player and learning every day, but coaching is something I’m definitely interested in.” Today will put this enthusiasm to the test.
TASTING THE TURF
We start the session with a simple warm up exercise. Friedel divides us into groups of three, setting us out in a line, with 10 yards between each player.
The player in the middle has to run to one end of their row, receive a pass from a server, control it, pass it back and then sprint to the other server and repeat.
This starts off with the ball on the ground and then progresses to sidefoot volley passes with either foot and controlling the ball on our chest, knees and head.
On the two occasions Friedel comes over to assess my aptitude I slip over. It’s not wet, the grip on my boots is fine, this is just my natural incompetence coming to the fore.
The Tottenham stopper tries to suppress his laugh, but he can’t stop a chuckle breaking out.
From my crumpled position on the floor, my mouth full of 3G-pitch rubber crumb, I can see loose balls flying everywhere. It’s like watching a child’s birthday party spiralling out of control.
“If we were doing this in training we’d be doing it at game speed and the quality wouldn’t drop,” explains Friedel.
I pick myself up, spit out the rubber pips and make my way over to the second exercise – keep-ball.
We’re separated into groups and placed in two small grids, where we’re divided into two teams.
To score a point, a team has to string together 10 consecutive passes. To help them achieve this, there’s a floater in the grid, who can play for either team in possession.
The pace is more wild than frenetic. Barely three passes are strung together by either team; not only is the quality low, but the energy is rapidly draining from each player’s legs.
I don’t suffer from asthma, but I’m getting a taste of what it must be like. Seriously, how fit must elite players be? How good must they be to ping the ball around in this tight space with speed and precision? How do they maintain quality with tiredness setting in? It’s frightening.
GEORGE AND A DRAGON
With my legs evaporating like butter in a microwave, Friedel marches the group over to a small-sided pitch where our teams will play a winner-stays-on tournament.
I know what the Tottenham players must feel like when they get Mousa Dembele on their team. I’ve got George, who plays in the Conference South and coaches one of the academy teams.
At first I thought he might have played for the under-12s, but with the ball at his feet it’s clear his baby face belies his fleet feet.
George inspires our team on our winning streak, with each match lasting no more than a few minutes as he takes just two touches to inflict maximum punishment.
I enjoy winning, but also enjoy touching the ball. George doesn’t need us. I’m growing increasingly frustrated with this one-man show.
Once again George gathers the ball from the goalkeeper. I’m in space on the other side of the pitch, screaming for it.
A cluster of opponents swarm around him, he could probably beat them on his own, but he finally yields to my bawling and passes the ball into my feet.
Rather than energising me, the ball immobilises me, and I freeze. My team-mates are standing in space, waving their arms calling for the ball, but I can’t seem to action my legging into kicking it.
Opponents are closing in and I don’t know what to do. As their boots lunge forward to claim possession of the ball I fire it into our goalkeeper’s feet at pace – he’s only five yards away from me.
My backpass-come-shot ricochets off his shinpads and into the feet of an opponent who strokes the ball into the back of the net.
I look over at George, the teenage prodigy. He rolls his eyes and he gesticulates in exasperation. I wanted the ball, he didn’t want to give it to me, he finally gave in and this is how I repay his show of faith.
There’s no coming back from this howler. I have the opposite of the Midas touch – every time I come into contact with the ball something disastrous happens.
Finally, with the session over, I have to face Friedel and his assessment of my performance.
“If I was coaching you one-on-one I would have stopped the session many times and broke down the technique of controlling the ball and passing it,” admits the American.
“You’ve got to get back to the basics. Then you can move onto more technical and tactical things.
“Fitness is an issue. Obviously, it’s easier for us because we’re out here everyday working on our fitness and basic skills every day. There’s no secret to getting better. You’ve just got to practise, it’s simple.”
Translated: You’re a useless, unfit oaf. A fair assessment.
Under Armour athlete and Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Brad Friedel trains in ColdGear Infrared, the latest innovation in base layer technology that uses a thermo-conductive inner coating to keep you warmer for longer. For more details about the range, please visit www.UnderArmour.com