England’s run to the final of the European Championships has been underpinned by the fitness of the squad. As Gareth Southgate demonstrated side demonstrated in extra-time against Denmark, the squad has the ability to play at high intensity for 120 minutes.
The fitness levels of England are no accident with training volume individualised for each player. Telegraph Sport examines how England became the fittest team the tournament.
Gareth Southgate spoke about this after England’s extra-time win over Denmark in the semi-final. “I think the biggest thing is psychological fatigue,” he said. “And the physical – the players are fit and we’re very professional, and I was going to say careful, but we’re very good, Steve (Holland, assistant manager) and our sports scientist team, in terms of planning the training,” he said. “We don’t overload the players, we’ve been conscious of that going back years. When they’re with us, we can’t improve them physically so we don’t over-train and we keep that freshness.”
All 26 players are fit, which is remarkable. The number of minutes they train, as well as play, the work they do in the gym – it is all carefully monitored and tapered to suit each individual (the so-called ‘periodisation’ method) through strength and conditioning coach Ben Rosenblatt who has worked hard on what he calls “tournament durability”. England also have also developed good relationships with the clubs and can access a huge amount of data on players.
Pep Guardiola told his Manchester City they needed to run less for success. Gareth Southgate has taken the same attitude – especially after such a gruelling last 13 months. England are simply covering less ground. They face Italy in the final and have run almost 100 miles less as a team during this tournament (412 miles compared to Italy’s 508.5 miles).
Total distance run
There are five England players in the top 20 in terms of running with Kalvin Phillips third with 41.8miles followed by Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, John Stones and Declan Rice but the overall figure is down.
Most distance run at Euros
Collectively the output is less with Southgate demanding that England keep the ball more, conserve their energy and pick their moments to press. With 54.2 per cent England are fourth of all the nations at the tournament in terms of ball possession – the other finalist Italy are down in eighth even though they have attempted more passes.
The Australian is the man behind the inflatable unicorns that are designed to make the pool recovery sessions the players have to do more fun. Touches like that help release any potential tension and make the players feel like they are enjoying themselves rather than working. As the head of performance Cavanagh’s works very closely with Southgate and Holland. His remit covers sport science, nutrition and psychology and he has become a key part of England’s success since being hired by the Football Association in late 2016. His work is all the more impressive given he had not previously been employed in football but Cavanagh is vastly experienced and past roles have included being the head of performance for the West Indies cricket team, Netball New South Wales and Munster Rugby. It has been quite an eclectic mix and has helped bring about a more innovative approach to keeping the players fit and healthy – and stimulated. Cavanagh is a good communicator.
The now famous inflatable unicorns are an idea of Kavanagh's
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
St George’s Park
Rather than simply return to a hotel near London after the semi-final the squad headed back to their ‘home from home’ at St George’s Park, arriving after 3am. It meant the players woke up in an environment they are comfortably with, rather than fighting through traffic to get to training. Also a large number in the squad have spent their international careers at ‘SGP’ – from England under-age groups to the senior squad. Raheem Sterling has spoken of how relaxed he feels there. They all know the staff and how to use the facilities.
“We felt that the environment that we wanted to create needed to be one that refreshed the players, that allowed them to enjoy their downtime, that gave them some freedom even in these moments where freedom is difficult but by being at St George’s we’ve actually been able to give them that freedom and that’s the key,” Southgate says.
Partly because England have a young squad – the third youngest at the Euros with an average of 24.8 years – there are few players with a long history of accumulating injuries. Harry Kane has his ankle problems while Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire came into the tournament recovering from injuries but there is not a long list of issues with the squad beyond Luke Shaw finally fully recovering from his serious leg break while Tyrone Mings missed a season six years ago through knee ligament damage. Southgate obviously makes his selections on ability but he also buys into the concept of profiling what makes a “durable player”.
Declan Rice’s absence towards the end of the season at West Ham may actually have helped give him a break while Raheem Sterling did not feature greatly for Manchester City in the second half of the campaign.
Lack of travel
England will have played six of their seven games at Wembley. It has been an advantage but also one they have capitalised on with their clever preparation breaking up their time between St George’s Park and Tottenham Hotspur training ground. Even their ‘away trip’ to Rome involved just one night overseas and less than 48 hours out of their base.
It was no coincidence surely that all four of the semi-finalists played their three group games at home while Wales travelled 5,382 miles and Switzerland covered 7,245 miles in their group games alone. Denmark, England’s semi-final opponents, had to travel back from the heat of Baku last Saturday – 2,500 miles to Copenhagen – after their quarter-final, across time zones, before flying to London to face England.