Football Fitness: A Waist of Talent?

Adam MichieCorrespondent IFebruary 20, 2008

In the good old fashioned days before Rugby Union became a professional sport, the physiques of some of the world’s top players, particularly the forwards, were far from slender. Whilst the fitness of those players was probably vastly superior to that of the average man about town, the amateur nature of the sport made them almost precisely that. Men about town.

Brian Moore the England hooker was a solicitor, Jeremy Guscott was a bricklayer and Welshman Ieuan Evans worked for a bank. It would be understandable for men in these professions to carry a little excess weight as their daily lives are dictated by their jobs rather than their sport (even though Guscott and Evans were themselves, trim).

Since the game was made professional however, the size, stature and physiques of the men that play are now of stark difference to those of the amateur days; sleek, well-built and without an ounce of excess fat on their bodies.

League Football has been a professional sport for decades and whilst like professional rugby, players have in recent years become quicker, stronger and faster, the days of 20th century professional football was home to some overweight players.

Jan Molby, Mick Quinn, Paul Gascoigne and Neville Southall are just a handful of players who fought the flab whilst holding down successful professional careers. Throughout the mid to late 20th century rugby and football teams had an unheathly drinking culture and frivolous night-lives which would account for some bulging waistlines.

Despite the advent of the Premier League, the money it has generated and the adoption of more professional fitness ideals, there are still players who appear out of shape and slightly on the podgy side.

At Tottenham, fans could identify goalkeeper Paul Robinson and midfielder Tom Huddlestone as two of the guilty parties and since Marcos Alvarez the fitness coach has taken over, the pounds have visibly fallen off them.

The Spaniard put it down to the poor selection of fried and sugar rich food in the cafeteria and has since changed the menu entirely. Bangers and mash are a thing of the past—replaced by grilled chicken and boiled rice and the improved results on the pitch are testament to the changes made.

Perhaps the size and weight of former manager Martin Jol and his own attitudes to fitness, took their toll on his players as one of his former charges, now at Middlesborough seems to show. Mido 'Boro's Egyptian forward has, struggled to keep the weight down since coming to England from Italy in 2005 and often looks exhausted and out of breath whilst playing.

Whilst he has shown in the past that his talent for goal scoring and sheer physical presence amongst opposition defences can be an asset, his attitude to fitness detracts from his capabilities. Surely for professional footballers, who train anywhere between 18 and 25 hours a week and ultimately use their bodies as their tools of the trade and who get paid a fortune to do so, can avoid the battered sausages and meat pies, that their cravings desire if not for their clubs, but for the sake of their careers?

Other high profile players accused of being overweight like Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney are wrongly criticised about their physiques. These two seem to stand out more because of a more robust appearance which although may not fit in with the shape and size of a modern top flight footballer, it would not have looked out of place in league football of two decades ago.

There is a danger these days of identifying bigger players as fat as, like rugby, the shape of the modern footballer has changed. The danger is that players such as Mido and Huddlestone before the Ramos revolution get overlooked as being just generally bigger and do not realise the potential they have, should they lose the pounds.

Clubs have a responsibility to take care of their players much like any other profession however the main responsibility should however lie with the players. Paid as they are in modern football, as athletes, the nutritional value of what they eat should be a fundamental part of their fitness regime.

As professionals and role models failure to maintain these obligations as part of their profession, in line with what the club expects of them should have more severe consequences. Players would think twice about drinking binges or late night kebabs if their own credibility and future in the sport was affected because of being continually out of shape.

The profile of top flight players are such that their attitude to their profession on and off the pitch is in the public domain. They owe it to their employers, their fans and their sport to consider whatever is served up on their plates at mealtimes will be evident in what they serve up on the pitch.

You are, after all, what you eat.