Germany’s backroom staff in South Africa currently has three Americans in the camp who work for Athletes Performance, the company that was ridiculed in 2006 when their methods included archery, watch-making and tractor-pulling.
Back then, each player was given an individualised training programme for two years, designed to peak during the tournament, and it paid off: Germany made more tackles than any other team, sustained fewer injuries, and scored late goals in important wins against Poland and Argentina.
Germany coach Joachim Low has increased the Athletes Performance influence this time around: Shad Forsythe, performance manager, lives in Germany and liaises with every player and club throughout the season; Benjamin Kugel, also Werder Bremen’s fitness coach, is in South Africa to coax the best out of playmaker Mesut Özil, who was outstanding against England; and Masa Sakihana is a fitness analyst who has been working with Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, both of whom scored against England.
“Traditionally there is tension between national teams and clubs because the goals are not aligned, but we have created a culture for all clubs to work together to evolve and support players,” said Athletes Performance founder, Mark Verstegen.
“Shad Forsythe lives in Germany to work and interact with each club so there is a more seamless transition working in the players’ best interest. One of the things we identified early, in this logic chain of sustainable performance, is in order to have the players at their peak for the national team, they needed optimal environments and communication at the club where they spend most of their time.”
As the recriminations into England’s failure continue, the spotlight will fall on the form of Wayne Rooney, who failed to score in South Africa and looked tired and lacking fitness.
Rooney has not scored since March, amid accusations that Manchester United rushed him back from an ankle injury. He has not scored in nine games, his longest goal-drought for more than two years.
This is in stark contrast to the fate of German duo Klose and Podolski, who scored just five Bundesliga goals between them in over 50 appearances last season, yet both netted in Germany’s 4-0 win over Australia in their opening game, and again in the win over England.
“Both men had sub-par seasons at their club. Miro had a lack of playing time and Lukas was repetitively injured,” said Verstegen. “They were described as not fit, but in our first match they both scored and have played huge roles in our team’s success thus far. They are two great examples of why each player is treated and developed as an individual. They go through the same process, identify their game-plan together, then we bring them to their top level. You can see by their quality of play, they respond really well. They are both gifted players, like great racing-car drivers. But even the greatest driver could not win an F1 race with an underpowered car with poor brakes. But give them a quality car – in this case, their body – that supports their skills and you have something powerful to watch.” Verstegen’s team has even developed a computerised personal training device, the miCoach, which measures pace, heart rate and tells the player when to speed up or slow dow.
“Our German friends thought everything we did was unorthodox, from how we warmed up, to the small bands around players’ knees, and our movement and speed training, but they fell in love with the results,” added Verstegen.
“And that was not just down to the increased quality of play, but the players speaking of what an impact it’s made on their play. Even the biggest names said their careers have been changed by us.”