The following interview was conducted and posted by "Juan LFC", creator of the Spanish blog Liverpool Madrid
and frequent reader of RAWK, on the day prior to the friendly pre-season match against Villarreal. It is divided into seven chapters or sections(as it was posted on the blog) and each one deals with a different area of discussion.
The translation was a joint effort by Phoenix Wright and myself. Hope you enjoy it.A conversation with Paco de Miguel. Chapter 1: Who is Paco de Miguel?
On the occasion of Liverpool’s visit to Castellon for the pre-season match against Villarreal, “Liverpool Madrid” had the huge privilege of chatting for over two hours with Paco de Miguel, our team’s physical trainer. The details of this chat will be discussed over a series of chapters that begin today, with a little introductory ‘C.V’, if you will, of the man in charge of Gerrard and Torres’s fitness among others .
A big thanks to Kily and Jose who made it possible for this encounter to take place.
First of all, we would like for you to explain to the readers how you came to be a physical trainer with a name like Paco de Miguel, which is more reminiscent of a flamenco singer than anything else…
-(laughs) The flamenco thing, look, my mother is from Andalusia so…well, I got into physical education almost by accident because my vocation was always to join the military. It was an idea that always attracted me and some of my family members have had military careers but then I was told that there was a career at the INEF that was related to physical activity, and I was an athlete at the time so I had to make a choice. They made it difficult for me because my idea was to join the navy, which is what I really liked, and then go to the naval academy in San Fernando. However, I was told that the enlistment roll was very limited, that it would be complicated to get in and since I didn’t care much for the land army, I went to the INEF instead.Since you mentioned athletics, what was your specialty?
- I ran middle-distance events. First 800m, then 1500m, and later I tried 10,000m but that distance was too much for me. My times were decent but I had to train way too much and at the end it wasn’t worth all the sacrifices. My training consisted on three daily sessions which were very demanding and when you realize that all that effort is not enough to get a minimal national mark…And how did you become involved in football?
- When I finished my career, with the help of some family members and other people linked to football, I sort of found my way in until I started to prepare a third division team, Villaverde Boetticher, and we got relegated (laughs). I then went to San Fernando de Henares and that same year, with the pre-season about to begin, I got a call from Atletico de Madrid to train their second team and I spent the next three years there. We had some great seasons and I have some very fond memories of my time there. Afterward, I moved on to Universidad de Las Palmas, then to Getafe for three years, we won promotion, then Valencia and since last year, Liverpool. To end this segment of the interview, tell us a bit about your history as a footy fan…
- I’ve always liked football. Since I was a little boy. I spent my childhood years in Barcelona due to my dad’s job relocation yet I was always a fan of Real Madrid but when we went back to Madrid, I became more interested in Atletico de Madrid. I had become a fan of Schuster from my time in Barcelona and he was my favourite player at the time. He was one of the best known players of that time and to top it off we sported the same bowl haircut. Then I watched him play for Atletico and from that moment on I became a supporter of Atleti.Chapter 2: Working at MelwoodWhich player has impressed you the most in terms of physical preparation out of all the players you’ve trained throughout your career?
-Ohhh, It’s hard to day. To be honest, there have been many, many , many such players. Miguel Angel Angulo impressed me at Valencia, he’s a very complete player. The thing is that usually when a player has an area where he excels at, he lacks at a different area but Angulo on the other hand didn’t have any major weaknesses. At Getafe there were a few. Gica Craioveanu, at 36 years of age, was still the fastest player on the team, which is amazing. He would beat four seconds over 30 meters every time we tested him. He was fantastic. And at Liverpool is difficult to say because every player has a different quality but the truth is that, perhaps, because of how impressive he looks and the physical prowess he displays, I would have to go with Javier Mascherano. Physically, he’s a very complete player. The rest of the players are very complete as well but he stands out a bit more. Every time he loses a ball, he quickly runs back to recover it and puts a lot of effort and that always catches your eye. But at Liverpool all the players give their all. It’s a beauty to watch their commitment and physical performance, from the first to the last player on the team and that is something I’ve been very impressed by since my very first day at the club.Is it a very noticeable difference when Mascherano is not playing in terms of the other player’s recovery time?
- Not in our case, but, do you know why? Because we’re a team where every player is capable of performing at a high physical level all the time. If Javier is not playing, then whoever steps in will give a similar effort, more or less. You don’t see a big difference. As a matter of fact, we keep control of the intensity, volume of matches and other technical aspects and most of the time, regardless of who’s playing, our measures tend to be good.I’m personally very impressed by Pepe Reina’s physique.
- Pepe Reina has fabulous genetics. Also, he’s a lover of strength training but particularly of the lower extremities. He enjoys it very much because he is a believer in that kind of work and he feels more comfortable when he does it. But the truth is that even when he’s not exercising his upper body, he can maintain his tone and evidently, that comes from genetics. Quite frankly, his biotype is probably closer to a Caucasian or African footballer. How important a factor is the pre-season on the rest of the season?
- We don’t share the belief that you need to work extra hard during the pre-season and then switch to lighter training during the league season or that you just need to do more physical work in the pre-season to be at a good level for the rest of the season. We opt instead for lighter training, not undertaking on extra-grueling distance running, double sessions like in the past. We do similar work to that of the regular football season because, at the end, for us the first three points are just as important as the last three. As you take control of the intensity of each training session, you learn to adjust them better in relation to the match-day activity, and if you’re capable of creating the right amount of stimuli during the entire year, with the right dosage, you can keep a much more stable level during the entire season and you don’t experience the typical peak and valleys in performance. For us the pre-season is just a part of the rest of the season. We don’t do a lot of different things to what we do the rest of the year.Who is the player on the squad that when you tell him to do fifteen crunches he does ten instead, clearly cutting back and even believes you never caught him?
- Usually they all do everything we ask them. In Liverpool there’s not a player that tries to pull that sort of trick on you. At other teams I’ve been a part of there’s been more than one (laughs)…but at Liverpool I couldn’t tell you one name because there isn’t one. It’s true that some players complain more than others but at the end they do all the work like everyone else. So not a problem there. This is like a blessing for a physical trainer.Is there a bonus clause in your contract in the case that Liverpool sign a player with the physical qualities of Jan Molby?
- (laughs) The contract remains the same. On the contrary, I would get an earful if I couldn’t get him to perform better. Every now and then you get the ‘misfortune’, in parenthesis, of having to work extra hard with a player that struggles to keep fit… there are some players that do good work but , at the end, need to constantly watch their weight and usually have a rougher time getting it accomplished and it’s more difficult than it seems…but then, honestly, in the world of football there aren’t many cases of such nature. In Liverpool, for example, all the players are at a good level. We don’t have any ‘chubbies’, thank God.CHAPTER 3: The invisible workout
What would you do to keep the form of lads like us whose relationship with sports is based mainly in watching football matches lied down in the sofa or in a bar and with a beer at our side?
(Laughs) I couldn't do too much really. You know that for being in shape there are two rules: to eat right and to exercise. At the end I usually say that we have to include the habits of physical activity to the basic ones such as: hygiene, sleep, eat... and if you include it like one more, is easier.
When a match is getting difficult we usually eat loads of chips and nuts. There are any that the body assimilate better or are all of them not good?
Nuts are high calorie food but at the same time are very healthy. Chips are horrible. Most of them are fried with cooking oils that are not healthy. Is a food with a glycemic index too high and when you cook them that glycemic index gets even higher. Chips make people fat... very fat.
The menu from Carragher's restaurant is compatible with a sportsman diet?
Yes, totally... if not he would kill me (laughs). I have gone sometimes and is a type of "american food"... in the way of the big American franchises that combine food and sport. It's ok, it's ok...How long would it take you to make Rafa a fit man?
(Laughs) The problem with Rafa is the same that have everybody here, we are focused on the work, and specially him who works 24 hours a day (something deserved to be admired. I have worked with many coaches but I never seen something similar), there is no time. The year before was one of the years when he exercised less. Why? Because we are very busy with other things, we are very committed with the project and of course, the public man is he and he has no time to exercise. Although this question doesn't need an answer because Rafa is a INEF graduated, so he can work his body himself.CHAPTER 4: Speaking the language of ShakespeareWe know that Rafa has forbidden talking Spanish in training sessions. Did he catch you talking it sometime?
My English level is average, so when I had to tell something to a Spanish player sometimes was faster for me telling it in Spanish than in English. I did it and nothing happened. But we know that he doesn't like it and for that reason we are improving our English. But that is being a big help, at the end you have to survive.
There are some muscles that are hardly to difference in pronunciation even in spanish. For exemple, we could highlight the "abductores" and "adductores". Is easier in english?
We are going to explain it... "adductores" muscles, with "d and d" are the ones that close the haunch and the "abductores" with "b and d" are the ones that open it. In english when we talk about "adductors" we are referring to the ones that close it, the same as Spanish. The other one belongs to a group of muscles that take its name by the operation it does.When we go to a job interview and they ask us for our English level we always say that is "average-high", written and spoken. When Rafa called you to work for Liverpool, what did you say?
Mine was different because I didn't know Rafa and he contacted me after talking to others. Benitez talked to many people, these people told him that my English level was good. Then when he called me he asked: "well, people told me that your English level was very good" and I said: "no, not so good. I understand almost everything but I don't talk it, that's the truth". Then when we met at Liverpool I came to realise that I didn't understand so much as I thought because there people talked a different English that I have heard before, but with the time you understand more and more and you start talking it.I read in Guillem's Balagué book "A season on the brink" that one time Benítez wanted to advert to a player that was shooting to goal to be careful with the wind but due to a pronunciation mistake that player understood that he should drink less wine. Has happened something similar to you?
Yes it happened many times to me, because the first days the most difficult part is to pronounce alright... so the players usually have a laugh. I used to point out in every exercise we do that the back has to be always straight, and usually add "boys". "Back straight boys!". And everybody started with the jokes with the music group "Backstreet Boys". In fact, I had to change the way I say it because if I say "Back Straight" you can hear in the group of players some saying "Backsteet Boys". I have to assimilate that is impossible to change it now... Kuyt is the main culprit. Kuyt punished me with that a lot. But at the end, when I need to finish fast, it happens and I say it.Chapter 5: A season in LiverpoolWhen Real Madrid signed Joan Plaza as their basketball team manager, he asked his wife to take a picture of him at the exact spot where he had taken the phone call from the club. Did you have a similar experience when you had your first talk with Rafa?
- My situation was a bit curious as well. I was at home, in Madrid (well, we’re not exactly in Madrid. We live in a small town on the outskirts of Madrid and Guadalajara, in a country home). The day prior, I had been in Almeria, to interview with Unai Emery because they had thought about me to work with them and it was 9:30 am when the phone rang, it was a private number, I’ll never forget it, I picked it up and a voice said: “Paco de Miguel?”, “Yes”, “I’m Rafa Benitez, is it possible for you to get on a plane here within a week?”, I said “Okay”, if I would’ve had to go swimming I would’ve done so. When I hung up the phone, my wife said to me “what’s the matter, who was it? you look like you’ve seen a ghost?”, I said “Rafa Benitez”, “And what does he want from you?”, “What do you think he wants? For me to go paint the doors at his house!!??. (sarcastic)What does he want?!”Let’s associate a particular anecdote or experience you’ve lived in Liverpool with each of the basic physical qualities. Let’s start with strength.
- Strength has to be the supporters at Anfield. Anfield. Anfield is pure strength. What you experience there…I don’t know what, even after fourteen years in football it’s very difficult to explain. I don’t think there is a group of supporters with more strength. It’s pure strength, amazing.Stamina…
- Stamina, the volume of work, the way everyone is involved the project…you have to possess a lot of stamina to keep up with this rhythm and then be aware and fresh enough to remember every detail and make sure everything is in order.Speed/Velocity
- The speed with which everyone who works at Melwood make you feel at home. It’s a very rapid process. I was very impressed by it. To arrive at a new workplace and experience everyone rushing to support you and before you know it you realize “this has been a lot easier than I expected”. And it’s usually one of the toughest tasks you’re faced with when you arrive at a new place. But it’s been great with everybody. From the gardener to any person working at the office. It’s like a big family.
- The open-armed attitude of the players towards the work we do. I think they’re very flexible that way. I’ve worked with other group of players but I’ve found something special here and it’s because they can accommodate perfectly to anything that is asked of them. I’m convinced that many of the tasks we have the pleasure of doing here and carrying without any problems would be complicated to get done at other clubs. This is a very flexible group.Does your family in Spain follow the club with the same devotion that the rest of us do?
- Of course. My brother is a big fan of football in general (he played in the third division) and every week, after the match, one of the first calls I make is to him to ask his opinion. So he’s very much obliged to follow us because I need his assessment after the match. And my mother lighting up a candle for every saint he’s driving them all crazy. It’s like I say to her “you’re driving the saints insane!” (laughs).Just out of curiosity, what team does he support?
- He was a Madrid fan also but since my time at Atletico, he’s become more of a fan of them, and he confessed to me recently that, this year, he’s buying their season ticket.
The bench areas at Anfield are placed very close to the main stands and I imagine that you must have a ton of anecdotes about your neighbors in the stands. Can you recall any particular one?
- I remember something that struck me on one occasion and it was a fan who was…not insulting, because the people here are a lot more respectful, but he had some difference of opinion, a bit louder than what’s usual here (which would make it usual in Spain), he was raising his voice and giving some grief to someone on the other team ( I can’t remember who we were playing against). I remember perfectly that one of the policemen who was close by came over, pointed a finger at him and went “schhhhhh”. I didn’t hear the man again. Incredible.The clothes you wear in training are personalized with your initials. Is there a family member or friend with the same initials and who wear the same size who have asked you for some item? My name is Juan Moran so at least we share the “M”. Perhaps I could make a little fix.
- I’ll give you something and if you take it to a good place then maybe they can take away the “P” for you(laughs). It’s true that it is a nice gesture because it is done with the intention of making it easier for the people in Melwood to identify one another in a quick and accessible manner. When we spoke of the quickness with which people make you feel a part of the project and part of the everyday life of the club, the initials on the shirt help a lot. Because when you’re introduced to someone, at first you don’t have their names memorized and at the end you look at the initials and say “oh, yes this is so and so…” and it becomes easier to find help. And on the other hand, I think it gives it a touch of distinction and makes you be more responsible of your own clothes. Because we are all responsible for our own materials. The players have to be and it’s the same for us. If I leave a shirt laying around and it reads “PM”, obviously it was me who did it, so evidently it is my fault and I have to assume the consequences.
CHAPTER 6: Visitors Guide to LiverpoolThere are loads of readers of "Liverpool Madrid" that want to go to Liverpool, not only for watching a match but visiting the city too. Be our touristic guide and tell us about the home of a player or the staff what would be, firstly, go out for a meal.
I hadn't got the privilege because we don't meet the players when they are out of Melwood... but for what I heard and people tell, Torres brings many quality products from Spain. I don't know how he does it but he gets shellfish, he gets things that is impossible to see here. I think Torres's home could be a good place for a meal.
To drink a beer
At Xavi Valero's home. Because he is a passionate of the beers, every time you go to his home he offers you a different type of beer saying: "See, taste this one that...". I hadn't got any love for the beer but now whit this lad... he is going to ruin me. And it's a good place. He creates a nice environment and strike you a good conversation. I have no doubts in this one.To watch a football match
This one is difficult. I would say that at Rafa's home but we wouldn't watch it as supporters, we would make an exhaustive analyisis about what's happening, so... this is rejected. Do you know what happens? The idea of a football passionate, who lives it as a supporter... you don't see it there, because all of us are professionals. I couldn't say you a person because there is no one that live a match in a special way. Everybody tries to calm down. If you notice it, I am not a person who celebrates the goals, why? because in that moment you are happy for it, but since the moment you score to the moment the match is finished can happen so many things... I think that most of us are focused on the match and you don't detect anybody that... well, maybe there is one. David Bygroves. He is the person that takes care of the staff in Melwood. He is an English lad, he talks rather well Spanish and takes care too of accommodate the families and those things. He is a big help for everybody. And he is the one who asks you questions from a supporter side. "I am going to wear the shirt and go out for a beer", "David, you work for Liverpool, keep your cool". In my opinion, this is a true supporter.For sleeping. I think that Xabi Alonso lives in Albert Dock zone. Could that be a good option?
Yes, the problem is that isn't a quite zone precisely... I wouln't know what to say.CHAPTER 7: The endingEvery time Liverpool plays a match, I eat cereals for breakfast in one of my Liverpool bowls. ¿Have you got a similar habit?
I think that almost everybody is superstitious in football. I had many habits time ago. Now the only one I have is wearing the same watch for the Premier League, FA Cup and Carling matches, and in Champions League matches I change it. I did it when I were in Valencia and I continue doing it here.
What can you tell us about your museum? We have near fifty Liverpool shirts. How many got you have? Have you got any object, photo, etc. that you keep with affection?
If I tell you the truth, I live in a rather big house and I have loads of places for those objects you talk about, but it's something about I'm not interested in. And I can't say why, I talked about it with some partners that are interested in these things and keep them as a treasure but I'm not special interested on them. I have some shirts from players that voluntary told me: "hey! this one is for you" and I keep them with affection but I've never exposed them. And what I've never done is asking someone for his shirt.And your friends ask you for some players' shirts?
Many people... is something incredible. But because I don't ask for them for my own, I don't ask either for others. The players have only one shirt per match, the ones that they treat give to others must be paid by them.Sex before the game... for or against?
With this there has been always controversy. I had a friend that was working as a doctor in Atlético de Madrid that used to say that was good but if you didn't ejaculate (laughs). I told him: "that has to be fucking bad" but the lad said that you can achieve it. He talked about really weird things, he liked Chinese medicine too... I have affection for him, because he is a nice dude. Sincerely, I think that sex induces a physical exhaustion and I understand that, before a great effort, it's not good. I wouldn't recommend it. But there are players that have some habits that are not good but they were doing them for all his career and if they like them... I remember that David Villa used to take for lunch, if we played in the afternoon, a bowl with milk and Cola Cao. We know that the milk is very indigestible and drinking it before a football match is horrible. But then the lad used to play a great match...We are searching for a reporter for our blogsite among the players and the staff. Who is the most addict to internet in the team?
It's difficult because you have no time. I become aware of what happens in Spain when I phone home, one time every ten days. And they "kill" me when I call them. My parents and everybody: "you have forgotten us!" I become more aware of the news by my wife, when I come home she tell me: "this guy has signed for this team, that other guy fot that other team...". She doesn't like football but since one of us in working on this... I go to work ar half past seven in the morning, everyday, and is strange the day I return home before seven o'clock in the evening. And seven o'clock in England is late. That's the pace.The year before, I studied the level I of the football coaches course, but to obtain the title is necessary to submit a practice report with the description of the training session made as a coach in a club. Because of my professional commitments is impossible to me working in a club. Could you lend me some report to copy it and pass this first course?
Well, the only thing I can lend you, if you want, are all our training sessions reports. But I would have to go because they would fire me.
Many thanks to Juan and his mates for the interview and for sharing it with us and to Phoenix for organising the whole thing and for his translation work. Cheers.