Manchester City: The science behind the champions

 

Attached to one of the walls in an anonymous corridor of Manchester City's Carrington training ground is a shelving unit.

Resembling a set of pigeon holes at a hall of residence, it is divided into narrow slots, each carrying a laminated tag bearing the name of one of City's multi-millionaire players: Aguero, Hart, Toure, Balotelli and so on.

Within each slot are two vessels, one large and one small. The bigger one will be filled with the given player's personalised recovery drink - a concoction of proteins, carbohydrates and nutrients blended according to detailed analysis of their blood and saliva.

Man City lift Premier League trophy

The smaller pot will be used for any dietary supplements, such as fish oils and multi-vitamins, which tests have revealed to be lacking in a player's diet.

City's embrace of sports science is not unique in a league where every club is searching for the slightest edge over their rivals, but the extent of their commitment exemplifies a determination to leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of success.

It reflects an attention to the finest of details at a club that won Premier League by the finest of margins on that unforgettable afternoon in May.

"The Premier League is a ferocious league, the physical outputs of players have been shown to go up and up over the last five or six years," says Dr Sam Erith.

"They play an enormous number of games and their energy levels are always sapped after matches, so it is our job to try to help them get ready for the next game.

"Our nutrition specialist, Tom Parry, talks to the players and analyses their diet and habits. We look at blood data to see if there are any deficiencies or issues there and some of the saliva markers that might show their immune system is compromised.

"This, combined with a detailed breakdown of their work-rate profiles in games and training, helps us to guide them to the most appropriate nutritional and recovery strategies.

Sports Science: Key areas

  • Training
  • Gym conditioning
  • Nutrition
  • Recovery
  • Monitoring of work rates and loads
  • Fitness testing
  • Re-conditioning injured players.

"A good diet would never turn a bad footballer into a good one but if a player eats a well-balanced diet and hydrates in the correct fashion then they have a chance of playing at their potential consistently throughout the season."

Erith heads City's sports science department, which, with five full-time staff, is one of the largest in the league.

On top of educating players about diet and nutrition and supplementing their consumption before, during and after games, Erith and his team use the latest scientific advances to help prevent injuries.

City were so successful in keeping players fit last season that a table compiled by analysts at PhysioRoom.com  - a specialist sports injury website - had City leading the way, with fewer significant injuries and fewer days lost to those injuries than any other Premier League club.

"Injury prevention is a big part of what we do as a club. The manager, coaching staff, fitness and medical staff all have a critical role to play in this area," explains Erith, who joined City in July 2011 after six seasons with Tottenham.

"Right from the minute they finish a game, the recovery process starts. Players will head off for cold water baths and follow refuelling strategies to replace lost fluids and energy as effectively as possible.

"Physiotherapists and soft-tissue therapists will work with the players to try to prevent a situation where they would go into a training session or a match vulnerable."

The injury prevention work continues during training as every City player runs out with a GPS monitor attached to their vests.

The moment City won the Premier League title

The devices track players' every movement - their changes of speed, distance covered and heart rate - and provide charts and graphics for coaches to analyse at the end of each training session.

"This helps us with the constant juggling act of giving the players the right amount of work by detecting when players are a little bit tired and not producing their usual levels," says Erith.

"The modern player wants to know what he is doing, both in terms of his physical performance as well as his technical performance, so they come to us for information. Our job is to feed the information into the coaching staff and the manager to help with their planning."

The work of City's sports science team would be far less effective without a manager willing to embrace the latest off-field advances. Experienced fitness coach Ivan Carminati takes the lead role in communicating information about a player's physical state to club boss Roberto Mancini.

"We have a daily conversation at training but also speak in the evenings sometimes when we meet up with our families," says the 57-year-old Carminati, who worked with his fellow Italian at Lazio and Inter.

"He likes to rotate his players to keep them fresh. There are some who play more than others - like Yaya Toure or David Silva - but that is the manager's decision.

GPS monitors in football

  • Attached to players' training tops between shoulder blades
  • Devices weigh 50g, equivalent to two AA batteries
  • Can collect up to 100 pieces of player data per second on speed, distance, heart rate, dynamic stress load, accelerations and decelerations
  • Contain 3D accelerometers, 3D gyroscopes, 3D digital compasses, long-range radio and heart rate receivers
  • Produce feedback in form of charts, graphical reports or database

"Also, during the game, I can give him some advice on the fitness profile of each player. I look at them, use my experience and analyse how they recover after a sprint. I give him my advice but in the end he decides."

Carminati is currently engaged in one of his most crucial tasks as he endeavours to get City's squad in prime condition for the start of the season.

Some players returned from a six-week break at the beginning of July, while those who competed in the European Championship were given three weeks rest from the moment their team was knocked out of the competition.

"Pre-season is the pillar of everything, the first step in the process of building something," says Carminati. "We will have a double training session some days but the squad will also come to the gym before each training session to work with our strength expert Simon Bitcon.

"What they do will vary from player to player because they are very different. For instance, we have Micah Richards, who is very strong, and Silva, who is a much slighter build. Our target is to give them the right workout depending on their role in the team and their physique."

Carminati, who was England fitness coach under Sven-Goran Eriksson and joined City in 2009, believes the Premier League is streets ahead of Italy's Serie A when it comes to sports science and fitness methods.

"When I first came here, I was really surprised by the English commitment to sport science, especially here at Manchester City," he says.

"I think they put a lot of money to build a big structure and I am very happy to be here and to be involved in this process.

"To be successful, the players, the coaches and everybody must row in the same direction. The kit man, the doctor, the fitness staff and coaching staff, we are a squad and everybody plays a part."

With their title defence soon to begin, every single member of City's staff knows they must raise their game to stay ahead of the field next season.

"They say you have to run to stand still in this industry," says Erith. "There are constantly new products, techniques and technologies coming in that, if applied appropriately, might give us an edge."