Revealed: the secrets behind Manchester United's gruelling pre-season regime
The reasons for Manchester United’s alarming slump in the final seven weeks of last season following Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s appointment as permanent manager are still being ferociously argued by the club’s fanbase. It is a debate that will only intensify if United pick up where they left off last term and start the new campaign badly. And yet, for all the questions that are being asked about a squad that has not undergone the change many fans expected, and for all the concerns expressed about Solskjaer’s credentials, transfers, the board and owners, it has been hard to detect any of that pessimism on this summer’s pre-season tour of Australia and Asia.
If anything, the mood has been buoyant, a far cry from last summer’s toxic trip to the US, when Jose Mourinho took a wrecking ball to everything in his sights and United’s season was in dire trouble before it had even begun. It is more than seven months now since Mourinho vacated the building but it has been interesting to gauge the feeling here that United fell away so badly towards the end of last season - and suffered so many injuries - in part because the team was simply not fit enough to maintain the increase in intensity demanded by Solskjaer.
Of all the extensive data amassed and dissected by a specialised sports science team led by Rich Hawkins, United’s head of athletic training services, in the fortnight the squad have been in Perth and Singapore, nothing has been more revealing than the news that the high intensity element of training has been up a staggering 50 per cent on the same two week period under Mourinho a year ago. “We’ve worked harder than ever to try to put things right,” Marcus Rashford, the United striker, said. “The sessions have been quite tough but, to be honest, I think that’s what we need, and if we compare it to this time last year we’re in much better condition.”
United’s players have covered 10 per cent more ground than at this stage last year. Two thirds of the sessions have been double training blocks and, in Perth alone, there were 14 sessions in the space of nine days. They even trained on the morning of their game against Perth Glory at the Optus Stadium. “The work ethic has been phenomenal,” said Hawkins, whose team, which includes strength and conditioning coach, Charlie Owen, and lead sports scientist, Ed Leng, work very closely with Solskjaer and his staff.
“Day one we had a meeting with the players and presented three key points that we wanted from them - to train with intensity, be committed to the process and when they have a chance to recover, to do it properly.”
For some, it was a bit of a shock to the system. For others, less so. “I’ve had a pre-season with Warren Joyce - he was mad!” said midfielder Scott McTominay of United’s former Under-21 coach. “He’s a top man but some of the pre-seasons we had with him were absolutely ridiculous. It’s been good to have one like that this year as well. The running, the training hard, is perfect but it’s the details that we’re trying to get right this pre-season.”
Luke Shaw agrees. “Pre-season has been very difficult but the sessions have been great,” the left back said.
Of course, anyone can get a player to run a lot but doing so within a wider tactical framework has been the focus. The way Solskjaer’s side implemented a coordinated, aggressive press high up the pitch against Inter Milan at Singapore’s National Stadium on Saturday was evidence of very specific work on the training field. It was more in keeping with what we have come to expect from Manchester City, Liverpool and Spurs and a world away from the leaden, ponderous, disjointed football United have mostly dealt in since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. The challenge now will be to keep repeating it. United travel to Shanghai on Monday and next up are Tottenham on Thursday, who impressed in a 3-2 win over Juventus on Sunday.
Mourinho’s most undeserving target last summer were the club’s young players, whom he as good as threw under a bus, but they have felt the love from Solskjaer and rewarded that show of faith with a string of performances that should puncture some of the disillusionment among fans. All seven of United’s goals on tour have either been scored or assisted by academy graduates. Mason Greenwood, who scored his second goal in as many games with a stunning strike in the 1-0 win over Inter, has been the standout. The 17-year-old is making the most of Romelu Lukaku’s continued absence but Tahith Chong has cut a similarly fearless figure and the likes of Angel Gomes and Axel Tuanzebe are also flourishing.
The needs of every player are being individually tailored. “We try not to be on top of players, hassling them with data,” said Leng, who joined United from the A-League side, Melbourne City, in June, having previously spent six years with Tottenham. “We are really streamlined with it but we want to find out what are their strengths, their weaknesses and then build individual programmes off the back of that. Essentially, we are trying to take them to the next level of performance.”
Jesse Lingard may have been reprimanded by Solskjaer over his lewd Snapchat holiday video but his statistics are understood to be among the most impressive and the manager singled out the effectiveness of his pressing against Inter.
Injury prevention is also key. The goalless draw against Liverpool in late February, when United lost three players to hamstring injuries in the first half, was cited as a warning about fitness levels. Each training session now begins with injury prevention exercises focusing on two or three key areas.
“Our key injuries we have had over the last few years have been groins and hamstrings,” Hawkins said. “So one of our aims is to ensure everyone is available for the manager on day one of the season so a lot of the focus initially in training is on those groin and hamstring areas.”
Time will tell if United are any better next season but, on the pitch at least, they have been making the right noises so far.
For the majority of last summer’s pre-season tour of the United States, many Manchester United staff members lived in fear of José Mourinho.
One remarked recently that he did not feel he could go to a bar near the team hotel in Beverly Hills for a quiet pint on last year’s tour. The fear was that Mourinho would clock him and mark his card. Another staffer noted that when involved in conversation with Mourinho in the morning, the Portuguese manager would lean in and get close to him. He suspected that Mourinho was trying to tell if he could smell any booze on the staff member’s breath and determine whether he had been out the night before.
Twelve months on, Mourinho is gone and the atmosphere on this tour could not be much more different. United’s army of 100-plus staff are not walking on eggshells around their manager. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a much more affable character. He deals with his staff in a more personable manner and that has created a positive and relaxed atmosphere around the squad in the two weeks that they have been away.
A casino night was laid on for the United staff at the Crown Towers hotel during their ten-night stay in Perth. A games room was set up for the players there, and at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Singapore, where they have spent the past four nights. The games room contains a big screen and a games console with the Fifa 19 game on it. There is also a table tennis table; word has it that Andreas Pereira is the best player in the squad.
It would be wrong to think that this is some kind of holiday camp for the United players, though. It is not. Solskjaer enforces rules – the players must all dine at the same time, for instance – and they had only one day off in Perth. Some of the players went clothes shopping at the Gucci store in the city, while Paul Pogba and Victor Lindelof paid a visit to Cottesloe Beach.
The training sessions during United’s stay in Perth were tough. Quite often, the players crashed in their rooms when they returned from training because they were so tired. During their nine full days in Perth, United had 14 training sessions at the Waca, the famous cricket ground which was converted into a football stadium for United’s time in Australia. They even trained on the morning of the 2-0 win over Perth Glory.
There were a few light-hearted moments during the sessions. On one occasion, Solskjaer and his coaches played cricket. Michael Carrick, the first-team coach, caught Solskjaer at silly mid-on off the bowling of Mike Phelan, the assistant manager, but for the most part, the coaching staff have been working their players hard.
“I’ve had a pre-season with [former United reserves manager] Warren Joyce. He was mad and some of the pre-seasons we had with him were absolutely ridiculous, and it’s been good to have one like that this year as well,” Scott McTominay, the United midfielder, said.
Solskjaer has appointed Michael Clegg, the former United defender, as a strength and power coach, while Ed Leng has joined the sports science department from Melbourne City this summer. Leng has observed training from the sidelines with a team of analysts, while Clegg and Charlie Owen, a coach who was promoted from the academy, are directly involved in the fitness training during sessions.
Solskjaer felt that the end-of-season dip that cost United a place in the Champions League was down to a lack of fitness and the team’s inability to break at speed. He wants his players to be quicker, fitter and more explosive. For that reason, there has been a greater emphasis on running on this pre-season tour compared to last year.
United completed two more training sessions in the first week of their time in Australia than they did last summer. Staff estimate that the distance run in training is up by 10 per cent and the high-intensity element of training has increased by 50 per cent. Even during tactical drills, there is more emphasis on speed and acceleration. Solskjaer wants United to be deadly on the counterattack and to press high up the pitch.
During their 4-0 win over Leeds United last week, two attackers were stationed on the edge of the box during goal kicks to try to stop the opposition playing out from the back.
Jesse Lingard, who trained with Solskjaer when he was reserve team manager a decade ago, is understood to have impressed the coaching staff with his energy and fitness levels in Australia and Singapore. His statistics are said to be favourable.
Solskjaer has also had his players doing more specific individual work in the gym on tour as he wants them to be more robust next season.
The training sessions are not as brutal in Singapore as they were in Perth due to the humidity here. Tables with bottles of water and bowls of bananas, apples and ice were set up next to the pitch for the players in case they needed to cool down or re-energise during training at the National Stadium on Friday.
We will only find out if Solskjaer’s high-intensity approach to training is the right call by the end of the season, of course. United finished 32 points behind Manchester City last season so they have a big margin to close. So far, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James have been the club’s only signings, although both have been very impressive in the wins over Perth Glory, Leeds and Inter Milan.
There have been a few hiccups on this trip too. Mark Dempsey went home after being hospitalised in Perth. The issue of Pogba’s future continues to linger too. United do not want Pogba to speak to the media in case he is asked about his future. This afternoon, Pogba, Wan-Bissaka and Juan Mata appeared at an adidas event in Marina Bay in Singapore. Wan-Bissaka and Mata answered questions from the local media but Pogba only turned up for the photoshoot and a brief appearance on stage in front of hundreds of supporters. He did not conduct any interviews.
Romelu Lukaku’s future has become a slight distraction. He has missed a number of training sessions – and all three matches — because of an apparent ankle injury as Inter Milan continue to push to sign him. Lukaku spoke to Inter staff after United beat the Italian team 1-0 in Singapore on Saturday. He was seen carrying an Inter shirt, given to him by one of their players, after the match.
United head to Shanghai tomorrow before their final game of the tour on Thursday against Tottenham Hotspur. The heat will be even more intense but the hard work will continue as Solskjaer wants his players in the best shape possible for the start of the season.
"Cohle Island knows no King but the King in the North, whose name is Cantona."
Deleted: 'indonesian wizard'
May 10, 2018 18:27:15 GMT
WhatsTheMata: Glad you think it's funny. When we get fucked around by the spells you just deleted you will take me seriously
May 19, 2018 11:57:48 GMT
No.7: Can this thread be unlocked or is it too early? not that i want Jose out now but i think were coming close to that time and want to hear peoples opinions on the subject.
Sept 20, 2018 10:15:25 GMT
cjjagzmoni: Pogba is a good lad minus the showboating..I think at Juventus he had Older players like Pirlo,Chiellini,Marchisio,Bonucci who shout and screams at him so he was more serious at Juve ,We dont have those type of leaders at United to caution him.
Nov 1, 2018 3:36:38 GMT
geo: Cardiff City - Huddersfield Town - Bournemouth - Newcastle United = 12 points. Back in the hunt. Come on.
Dec 19, 2018 17:55:18 GMT
geo: Job done as above - next step, stay unbeaten until we get to the PSG game.
Jan 3, 2019 23:17:42 GMT
theedge: Just discovered this forum. I live in Canada so don't get to many games, but I get to watch all the games live. Last 2 games attended in person: Europa League Final in Stockholm 2017, FA Cup Final 2016. Won the last 11 I've been to. I need to go more often
Apr 1, 2019 23:25:01 GMT
simes: Kazakhstan....well blow me down...been there many a time, not so bad a journey. FC Astana are not a bad outfit, gave Celtic a good run, and the National side beat Scotland. What do you reckon a walk over? BTW its easy to get to, I always use Air Astana.
Aug 30, 2019 14:11:59 GMT
snan1218: Hi,I'm very new member,the Red Devil from Malaysia.
Oct 10, 2019 9:16:40 GMT
shah: Hi i am shah been united fan from birec
Jan 24, 2020 8:33:02 GMT