Prepare to play like a pro

Ever wondered how elite footballers prepare for full-throttle action? FFT’s Ben Welch visited St George’s Park to find out…

48 hours before game day


More after the break


The mental game starts hereTwo days before the match: plenty of time to sit back and catch up on Corrie, right? Wrong. One of our mentors – the Manchester City and England midfielder, James Milner – catches FFT laying around ahead of a gym session. “Mental preparation starts two days before the game,” he says. “Start thinking about where you’re going to be playing and who you’re playing against. Get pictures in your head of what might occur during the game – then if they do, you’ll be ready.” Corrie off, game face on.


Build a body to perform


Tony Strudwick, head of athletic training at Manchester United, greets us in the gym. This man has coached the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo; now he’s working with a 32-year-old never-has-been. There’s no time for tweets or selfies – we’re straight to work. Strudwick pushes the team through a core workout, before a punishing eight-exercise circuit. We work for 30 seconds, then rest for 30, and complete two rounds of this. “My philosophy is to use core movements and add resistance through body weight and external load,” explains Strudwick, as we search for a bin to throw up in.


Expert view: James Milner

“Mental preparation starts two days before a game. Be ready for anything.”


"And next time we'll try it with the dumbbells"

24 hours before game day

Technique tune upFinally the footballs are out – but this is no kickabout. We run through a series of drills that challenge us to play out from the back, be positive in possession and create space. Our team lacks the football intelligence to grasp these concepts. We run around like a bunch of eight-year-olds, chasing the ball. “You’ve got to create width and depth,” says our coach, former Chelsea and England full-back Graeme Le Saux. “You are all compressing the space. You want to create 2 v 1 situations out wide.”


Repair the muscles


On the eve of the game we must repair and recharge, advises Strudwick. We’re given a protein shake as we make our way to the hydrotherapy suite, where a physio runs us through some light stretching in the pool before 10 minutes of agony and ecstasy in the hot and cold contrast pools. Then we squeeze into compression tights and hobble to the restaurant for a serving of chicken, new potatoes, steamed veg, fresh fruit and yoghurt. Then it’s straight to bed for a hug with Mr Cuddles, our teddy bear.


Expert view: Graeme Le Saux

“Don’t compress space. It’s important to create width and depth on the pitch.”


Le Saux helpfully points out the nearest exit

Game Day

Understand the game planThere’s no danger of us turning up, out of breath, just before kick-off. Our manager, former Wolves and England Under-21 goalkeeper Matt Murray, has us in a meeting room bright and early to go over tactics. “We’re playing a 4-3-3 and you’re massively important to the way we play,” he says, pointing at FFT. “I need you to get on the ball and protect the back four.” Gulp. And there’s more. He runs through every set-piece variation, telling FFT where we need to stand and what we need to do. What happened to just giving 110 per cent?


Performance editor, Ben Welch, runs so fast his hair starts to recede

The Match

We take to the field, immaculate in white kit and fancy boots. The surface is so soft we want to roll around on it naked. This is the pitch the England Under-21s train on – it’s the same size as Wembley and plays four times faster than your average Sunday league cow field. FFT feels 10ft tall. Five minutes, three sprints and two misplaced passes later, we want to collapse. We struggle to full-time, winning 2-1, with legs of jelly and ears ringing from Murray’s touchline tuition. “Post-match pint?” we ask. He hands over a water bottle. “Off to the hydrotherapy suite,” he says.


Expert view: Matt Murray

“If everyone does their job tactically, the team is more likely to succeed.”




FFT Performance editor Ben Welch was at the ‘Nike Football: Shine Through at St. George’s Park’ event. For more info on apparel and boots visit

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