As the major European leagues draw to a close, the ‘Beautiful Game’ is still as simple as ever: two teams of 11 players, three men in black, one ball and a well-tended pitch. Or is it?
To an outsider, football teams are like well-oiled machines. They train, they play, they rest and the cycle repeats itself for close to 10 months of the year, bringing emotional highs and lows for the players and fans alike.
But what supporters don’t get to see is the individual work that players put in to be picked for that starting eleven.Gone are the days when talent, skill and a good relationship with the coach are enough to make the team sheet. There’s now science and data rather than gut feeling behind a manager’s choice.
Real Madrid was an early adopter of bringing the science of sport to football backrooms.
Their High Performance Centre to the east of the Spanish capital, is the perfect backdrop to reflect on the developments in football coaching and facilities with the Real Madrid coaching staff.
Sitting down with fitness coaches Antonio Pintus, Javier Mallo and Bernardo Requena they explained how football has changed dramatically over the past 10 years, with a wealth of scientific knowledge becoming available that previously didn’t exist.
Football may have been slow to adopt this new expertise, compared to some other collective sports, but high-performance departments are now common place with dedicated teams to bring outside science into clubs and apply it to training processes.
So will there soon be no room left for pure talent and genius with the ball and will statistics take over the game?
They are quick to point out it’s not about science vs skill.
“Technology does not hinder creativity on the pitch. Instead it helps players get into the squad. To be in the elite the talent component is high, let’s say 70%. But this is where the problem starts…everyone here has that 70%. So within any Elite team it’s the small things that can make all the difference; a player’s training, their daily habits.”
Real Madrid have adopted the miCoach Elite training system to better understand the condition of their players and give a 360° view of what a footballer is going through.
This technology is helping to better understand a player’s form both when they are training and afterwards when they are recovering. Training can then be adjusted in real time; if coaches are seeing that three players have done enough during the session but another two have not worked as hard and need to put in an extra 30 minutes of cardio for example, then they can make that call and hold those two players back.
Real Madrid sees it as technology personalising team sport. All 11 players are working toward the same goal but they need to be treated as individuals, so ‘team’ training plans are becoming a thing of past. Before, it was the same for everyone; differences between the players were not taken into account. It is still a group sport but now it’s capable of focusing on the individual and adjusting to their needs.
Is there ever a feeling that big brother is watching you and that players shy away from revealing too much about their form? Antonio, Javi and Bernardo laugh. “We believe that educating the player and teaching them the reason why they are using technology is absolutely essential. If they don’t know the reason, they are going to stop doing it. We’ve started to introduce it to our youth teams, so just like any other technology they now see it as part of everyday life. With the older teams it’s voluntary but most of them choose to wear the sensors and have the data collected because they see what it gives them and not what it takes away.
“Some players are ahead of the curve, downloading apps, suggesting new things. You have to remember, they are very competitive. Football has 11 players and there are 24 or 25 in a squad. There are only three substitutions, so it is extremely competitive within the team.”