Why it’s balls rather than marathons for pre-season

Triallist Michael Bryan, right, and Sonny Bradley keep their eye on the ball during pre-season training at St John's College's pitches
Triallist Michael Bryan, right, and Sonny Bradley keep their eye on the ball during pre-season training at St John's College's pitches
Matt Clarke celebrates his goal at MK Dons. Picture: Joe Pepler

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Portsdown HILL, the New Forest and Hambledon were the favoured Pompey pre-season haunts.

Exhaustive runs in gruelling Hampshire environments, sometimes involving up to 12 miles covered in a single day.

Certainly a world away from modern-day football and, in particular, Guy Whittingham’s Blues regime.

Returning this week, his pre-season programme has so far centred around ball work at St John’s College’s pitches rather than the 26 miles covered over three days in the New Forest under Tony Pulis.

For Whittingham, players’ understanding of fitness has evolved, while coaching techniques have developed.

These days pre-season is very, very different.

‘You play football with a football and you run with a football when you are playing, we are not just going to run people,’ said Whittingham.

‘It’s hard work but you have to make it enjoyable at the same time because those players will give more.

‘There are scales of hard work as it progresses. There will be easy days, there will be hard days but it’s all controlled and with one real target – to get to August 3 with fit players and nobody injured.

‘At times I haven’t used the ball for the first 10 days in pre-season. That was going back to the good old days but it is extremely rare now.

‘I am not going to say where that was!

‘You had to get your core fitness in, get your stamina in first of all then you are okay. Nowadays, the players are more educated.

‘You can just find out how to keep fit on the internet these days, let alone the media such as DVDs and magazines, to help with fitness.

‘Players are a lot more aware of things you need to do to keep fit.

‘The days are gone when players would go off for their six or eight weeks in the sun and do nothing.

‘Look at Johnny Ertl, I think he saved the world. He was walking everywhere and building kitchens and up and down the Himalayas!

‘Players are more aware of what they have to do and why they have to.

‘They all want to come back and be fit, they don’t want the excuse they are not fit enough not to be in that starting XI.

‘Speaking personally, we will make sure that the sessions we put on are the right sessions with the football but it is all governed by the strength and conditioning coach Louis Langdown.

‘He tells us how long, what intensity to go and it slowly increases towards the end of pre-season.’

Langdown arrived at Pompey towards the end of last season in place of Chris Neville.

The long-serving Neville, who also works with England’s backroom team, quit in February to join then-Blackburn boss Michael Appleton and his assistant Ashley Westwood at Ewood Park.

That heralded the arrival of Langdown as the club’s strength and conditioning coach.

He formerly worked in a similar role at Southampton and Crystal Palace, while was head of sports science at Bournemouth.

Whittingham has been impressed with his input so far.

He added: ‘With Louis, that is where the board and the staff have backed us.

‘They have allowed us to bring people who know what they are doing.

‘If we are successful and get the football club up through the leagues then we have the staff who can stay here and it is important you have that continuity.

‘Chris (Neville) has done fantastically well and got himself into the England set-up. He was the one who recommended Louis.

‘Louis was at Bournemouth before with Lee Bradbury and is doing a really good job.’