The 2017/2018 English Football League season is underway less than three months after the end of the 2016/17 campaign. West Bromwich Albion’s director of player performance Mark Gillett talks about how his staff keep the Baggies the healthiest and most resilient in the Premier League.
English Football League squads reported for pre-season assessments and training at their home grounds in the first week of July, about six weeks after the end of the previous season. Many players from the Premier League – the top tier of the EFL – had even less time away. At the end of the season they reported to their national teams for training and exhibition games as part of World Cup qualifier preparations.
After 1-2 weeks at their home grounds, most Premier League teams and a few teams from the Championship – the second tier – left England for pre-season tours of Asia, the United States or Europe. By late July, Everton was already playing competitive matches in the UEFA Europa League. Their cross-town rival Liverpool FC will begin their Champions League campaign only three days after opening their Premier League season.
The overlapping schedules of national teams, domestic league competitions and European competitions contribute to the patterns of injury rates and games lost to injury among Premier League clubs. Only two clubs who finished among the Premier League’s top six in 2015/16 – earning them berths in last season’s European competitions – were among the top 10 teams in terms of injury rates.
“The schedule is very different for Champions League clubs,” says Mark Gillett, director of player performance at West Bromwich Albion. West Brom finished 10th in the Premier League last season. “Players get no days off. The demands of a Champions League club are very tough. But they have more players and resources, and that combination allows them to get it done. But for a mid-table club, they have to have all players available.”
Gillett and his staff received the Premier League’s award for Medical and Science Team of the Year. West Bromwich Albion lost the fewest days to injury and suffered the fewest significant injuries in the league. They did so with one of the league’s oldest squads, and using fewer players than any other club.
Defender Gareth McAuley is a prime example of West Brom’s successful approach. McAuley is 37 years old and started in 36 of West Brom’s 38 Premier League games. He scored a career-high six goals last season to be the club’s second-highest scorer. He also finished fourth on the team in minutes played, trailing two other players over 30.
“McAuley feels he has been able to play for so long because he stays with this strength-focused system. We ensure he is strong and continuously monitor his training profile from lower speeds to higher speeds, then train across that curve to make him more robust,” Gillett said.
West Bromwich Albion is Gareth McAuley’s first Premier League club. He spent his entire career in the Championship and League Two (the second and fourth tiers, respectively) before arriving at West Brom six years ago.
“He came to the game late, so he doesn’t have as many miles on the clock. Age is not the important thing. 20-21 years olds come in with so many more games in their body. In the Premier League the speed of the game is much higher than in the lower leagues. The speed that you have to execute technique at is much higher. Executing your technique at speed – accelerating, decelerating, agility, speedwork – putting that all together is mentally and physically demanding for a new player.”
“We have players come from other Premier League clubs who notice how different our preventative approach is. It can be a shock to new players, so we program the content to make it as fun and enjoyable as possible.”
Gillett credits West Bromwich’s management for backing the player performance staff, and supporting their work. What the strength and conditioning staff accomplishes not only helps the team on the pitch, but goes directly to the club’s bottom line. As a result of losing so few days to injury, West Brom lost the least money due to man-games lost: about $2.4 million.
The early starts continue. 6am start in a rainy HK. Time to introduce multi-directional movements into training. pic.twitter.com/24aasaBa1o
— mark james gillett (@wbamarkgillett) July 16, 2017
The three teams with the greatest financial losses due to injury all lost over $20 million last season. These clubs had the double hit of high injury rates among some of the highest paid players. However, Premier League champions Chelsea had the second-best injury record behind West Bromwich Albion. Despite having one of the highest salary bills, Chelsea lost the eighth-least amount of money due to injuries.
“[West Bromwich manager] Tony Pulis is a big believer in physical resilience, training and injury avoidance. He enforces things in the gym, which is a great advantage because it becomes difficult otherwise, particularly if high-profile players are uncooperative.
“Because of that the club has a good track record, which economically is very valuable. The wage bill even at mid-table clubs is high. The losses are still high, and because there are fewer players there’s an add-on effect of losing a player. Economic discussions are rarely far from the argument for any club – we are in a very financially aware industry.”
Cover photo: Ronnie Macdonald / Flickr CC By 2.0