The Premier League Experience With PLAYR
Despite having only just cleared up the celebratory ticker tape after their play-off final victory against Aston Villa, preparations for Fulham’s first season back in the Premier League since 2014 were underway when we launched PLAYR at their Motspur Park training ground in June.
Since then, much like the other 19 clubs competing in what is considered the world’s most competitive league, there has been a great deal of recruitment, training and, perhaps less obvious of all, analysis via technology. While PLAYR is for footballers at every level, clubs often use their own GPS systems to monitor the same metrics our technology tracks: sprint, speed, distance, load and intensity data.
The very best players from around the world have become reliant on technology to ensure they are ready for an upcoming campaign, but while you may think this is just a fad having seen professionals working hard in vests this summer, GPS player tracking has been a dressing room secret for well over a decade. Few know this better than Wales’ current Head of Performance, Tony Strudwick, who has previously held roles at Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers.
“Working at Blackburn Rovers is a great example,” begins Tony when asked about technology at football clubs. “They had a great manager in Mark Hughes and an excellent coaching staff implemented before I joined, but they were an incredibly fit side and trained just as hard as well. There were a lot of small sided four-versus-four games which helped, but they also recruited some really fit players such as Morten Gamst Pederson, Robbie Savage and Paul Dickov so the work rate was incredible.
“The work rate of that team was just the MO of the manager and he wanted to play at that tempo. He wanted to out run and out work opponents and then he was big into his data analysis. The distance covered in games was really important to him as a coach, but they trained hard and played hard which brought about rewards. There were seasons where they had European finishes.”
Strudwick’s revolutionary approach to preparation, performance and recovery didn’t take long to get noticed considering Blackburn Rovers went from narrowly avoiding relegation to playing in Europe. Sir Alex Ferguson, in the process of rejuvenating a Manchester United squad which would eventually go on to win the Champions League and three Premier League titles, was a firm believer in sports science and thought of no one better than Strudwick to help implement a new regime.
“I think with Sir Alex Ferguson, we are talking about the most successful manager of all time, certainly in this country and if not the world,” he continues. “What he achieved in his career was remarkable and I think it was over that last quarter of his career where he saw a lot of changes in nutrition. This was before I arrived, he was already looking at these things because he was a great innovator. When he first came down from Aberdeen, one of the first things he did was implement a pre-match meal which wasn’t standard practice.
“He was innovative in that respect because for him it was all about performance and winning – thinking through the process and then seeing how this can help players. Over time, we recruited vision specialists and allowed us to innovate really and maximise the recovery process. We built the laboratory to really profile individuals to see what we had. That’s what the laboratory was all about, it was about profiling the players we have and then maximising.
“For me, sports science was critical to the success of it. We had to have a culture of acceptance, we had to sell it to the players and we had to demonstrate the benefits of this sports science approach. Sir Alex Ferguson obviously went, David Moyes came in, and although it was a small tenure, he maintained that. When Louis van Gaal came in, he maximised the benefits of that and particularly the wellness factor. It was something that was created and sustained over a 10-year period – we’re really proud of that.”