October 25 2014 Latest news:
By Ben Pearce
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Our Spurs man gets a taste for a Tottenham training session as Lilywhites goalkeeper Brad Friedel puts a group of journalists through their paces at the club’s facility in Enfield.
As the Spurs correspondent for the local weekly newspapers, I make countless trips to the club’s new state-of-the-art training facility to attend weekly press conferences – and I often gaze longingly out of the window at the pristine pitches and dream of ditching my laptop for a pair of football boots.
Finally my big chance arrives, as I am given the rare privilege of travelling up to the Enfield base to get a taste of life as a Tottenham player – or, more specifically, to get a 60-minute flavour of what a first-team training session involves.
In order to replicate the experience of a winter run-out, Under Armour kit the journalists out in the same ColdGear Infrared range that the Spurs players wore when they faced Tromso inside the Arctic Circle in November.
With our long-sleeved vests, thermo leggings and shiny Blur Carbon III boots, we look the part – but can we play the part?
Putting us through our paces is Brad Friedel. This is it – the first and last chance to be scouted by a Premier League team.
For the first drill, we split into groups of three, standing in a line about 12 yards apart. The man in the middle then practises receiving the ball, turning and passing it on to the far side.
As Friedel shows us, the technique is to back away from the man with the ball, as if you are about to spin away in anticipation of a ball over the top – but then you duck back to collect the ball, before turning and moving it on.
The same movement is often used by wingers to deceive their full-back and give them a precious moment of time on the ball.
We move on to a second skill, running back and forth between our team-mates, receiving a throw and playing a volleyed pass back to them – left-footed at one end and right-footed at the other.
We go on to perform three variations of that drill – controlling the ball with the thigh and playing a volleyed pass back; chesting the ball before passing back; jumping and heading it back. The cumulative effect of the shuttle runs is tiring, but I feel I’m coping well.
“How old are you?” Friedel asks. Pleased that he has recognised my fitness level, I proudly reply: “I’m 28”. “Well what’s this then?!” says Friedel. “Pick up the pace!”
The 42-year-old proceeds to sprint back and forth – and it is depressingly difficult to keep up.
He goes on to explain that, of course, we have been doing a much easier version of the first team’s training sessions – their time in the middle lasts for longer, they are expected to maintain much greater intensity, and it is far less acceptable when their passes go astray.
That added pressure to produce perfection is a sobering thought, and suddenly the life of a professional footballer does not seem quite so easy.
The drill has a number of benefits, combining fitness work with simple skills which become harder as fatigue sets in. The players are therefore practising producing quality in the latter stages of matches, when their bodies and brains are tired.
Our three-man team is then pitted against another group in a passing game, taking place inside a small square marked by cones.
We wear pink bibs and our opponents wear blue, while one man wears orange and continuously swaps sides, always playing with the team who has the ball.
The group in possession therefore always has one extra man, and the aim is to put 10 consecutive passes together. It is a variation of the same drill that is used during the warm-up, around half an hour before each of Tottenham’s matches as they hone their sharpness on the ball in preparation for the kick-off.
We play for two minutes at a time, getting our breath back in between, and none of the four teams manage 10 passes. The best effort is nine, and the recriminations about that final missed pass are still continuing on the coach ride home two hours later.
Finally, we move onto a five-a-side game played on a small pitch but with full-sized goals. Each game is two minutes long, or until one team scores two goals.
I am asked to swap sides and join the Blues – or, as I prefer to describe it, “a multi-million pound transfer”. It proves to be a disastrous move.
We are given added motivation when Friedel tells us that, just like in first-team training, the losing team will be required to line up on the goal-line while the victors whack balls at them. “It adds a competitive edge,” he explains.
It quickly becomes apparent that it is necessary to close the other team down quickly because, as soon as the goalkeeper rolls the ball to one of his team-mates, they are within shooting distance.
Our first game is a disaster and we are 2-0 losers in less than a minute – at least one of the goals being my fault.
In general, the previous possession-based game does not appear to have improved our passing, and before long most sides give up and adopt a shoot-on-sight policy.
There are some fine goals, and I would humbly suggest that mine – a half-volley which crashed down off the crossbar, onto the goal-line and up into the roof of the net – is the pick of the bunch.
Unfortunately, I am on the losing team at the end, having lost all but one game – but fortunately Friedel allows us to escape the punishment.
On the other hand, I’m still waiting for the call about my contract.
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs