You don’t need a dressing-room spy to know something is up with van Persie
A one-size-fits-all training regimen can lead to some players being deemed injury-prone
Manchester United’s Robin van Persie reacts after losing to Newcastle United on Saturday.
‘I was due to take Robin off after 60 or 70 minutes, but I think if I’d taken him off everyone would have said: ‘What are you doing?’ But in truth Robin needed to come off after 70 minutes maximum, but I had to keep him on. We were chasing the game, we had to get a goal back.”
You could see David Moyes’s point. His gamble nearly came off when van Persie stuck a header in the net only to be ruled offside. Imagine the howls of outrage if he’d hooked him with 20 minutes to go.
But a man in Moyes’s position has to be prepared to make unpopular decisions. Van Persie’s injuries have been the biggest single reason why Manchester United’s title defence has collapsed. His fitness should be Moyes’s top priority, above even getting an equaliser against Newcastle.
Moyes described rumours that Van Persie had requested a transfer as “absolute nonsense,” but you don’t need a dressing-room spy to know that something is up with the player. You just have to look at his appearance record. He’s missed one-third of United’s league matches and they haven’t won in the league when he hasn’t played.
Van Persie used to be seen as “injury-prone” until he played 90 consecutive league matches between March 2011 and September 2013. The question of whether the return of his injury problems is linked to the Moyes training regime – described by Wayne Rooney as “a lot more running: long running, quicker running, sharper running” – has become a matter of speculation.
The Dutch fitness coach Raymond Verheijen has fiercely criticised Moyes since the day last summer when Moyes said of Van Persie: “We have overtrained him this week to try and make sure we build up his fitness but he has never complained about a thing.”
Verheijen didn’t like the word “overtrained”.
“The only way to solve this problem in Jurassic Park is to improve education of these dinosaur coaches, fitness clowns and scientific cowboys. All over the world in preseason you see the pattern overtraining-fatigue-injuries’. . . Obviously, players like RVP should learn to protect themselves better against ‘overtraining’,” he said.
Verheijen has a good reputation in the game, having trained South Korea’s 2002 World Cup team and the Russian side of Euro 2008, both of whom won plaudits for their fitness. One Verheijen disciple, Craig Bellamy, describes him as “difficult” and “arrogant”, but says, “he has an annoying habit of being right about fitness issues”.
Like Van Persie, Bellamy overcame a reputation for injury-proneness in the latter stages of his career. His book Goodfella contains fascinating insights into the training methods of certain Premier League clubs.
Fans tend to assume Premier League fitness training must be state of the art but, according to Bellamy, that’s not the case. He says his form during his first spell at Liverpool in 2006-’07 suffered because of the training methods of Rafa Benitez and Pako Ayesteran. Like Moyes, they prescribed plenty of running.