As the Premier League begins to ramp up its preparations for a return to action, clubs have restarted training with small groups of players.
In these uncertain and unprecedented circumstances, some players have announced their understandable intent to not participate in these sessions. Yet, the idea of players skipping training is by no means a modern concept.
And without a global pandemic to fall back upon, some of the game’s legendary stars past and present have reached those heights despite a less than casual approach to physical preparation.
José Manuel Moreno
An extraordinarily talented Argentinian forward who was part of the great River Plate side of the 1940s, Moreno’s star shone bright both on and off the pitch.
But not so much on the training ground. Moreno considered the tango as the best form of preparation for a match, which conveniently took place in close proximity to perhaps a less than ideal choice of beverage pre-game. Yet, this only heightened his legend and at the turn of the century, he was voted among the top 25 greatest players of the 1900s.
The cerebral, elegant Brazilian midfielder and political activist was the beating heart of the greatest team to miss out on World Cup glory.
Yet the biographer of Brazil’s captain for the 1982 edition claimed that Sócrates – who earned his degree in medicine while playing professional football – ‘loved to study and hated to train’. Sócrates largely viewed football as a hobby and was reluctant to spend too much time on it which somehow makes his achievements even more remarkable.
Harry Redknapp gave a concise summary of Lineker’s approach to training: “It is amusing to see Gary looking so fit now because during his peak years as a player his aversion to practice sessions was famous throughout football. He was a terrible trainer. He just liked to come in on Saturday and play.”
England’s third all-time top scorer never even used to take shots in the pre-match warm-up so he didn’t ‘waste any goals’.
As his son – wonderfully nicknamed Romárinho – had begun to carve out a career in the shadow of his father, the 1994 World Cup winner said: “I’ll go to his matches. But I don’t think I’ll go to his training sessions. I mean, I didn’t even go to my own…”
Yet, given the extraordinary, natural talent Romário possessed, it hardly mattered.
Owen had no hesitation when assessing Tony Pulis’ ‘mind-numbing’ training sessions at Stoke City. The former England international described the unvaried routine: “Every day is the same…11 v 11 – constantly, for like an hour.”
The 2001 Ballon d’Or winner even blamed the monotony of the regime for the end of his career: “I hated training. That finished me off, that place.”
The phenomenal Brazilian striker used all the tricks in the book when it came to diluting the agony that was training; always last when players were jogging around the field despite quite literally cutting the corners of the pitch.
It got to one point where his former teammate Míchel Salgado remembered players asking the coach not to force him to train in the hope of keeping him fresh for the upcoming fixture.
Rooney loathed one particular aspect of the modern training regime; the gym. His former fitness coach at Manchester United, Mick Clegg, lamented that the Englishman could have reached the heights of his teammate at Old Trafford Cristiano Ronaldo, had he possessed the same approach to work off the pitch.
Clegg explained: “Wayne didn’t see the importance of the gym really. He’d say, ‘I’m here to play football’. I always wish I could have pushed Wayne that bit further.”
Jérôme Leroy, the Brazilian’s teammate in his early days at Paris Saint-Germain, recalled: “Ronaldinho didn’t train any day of the week but just turned up on Friday ready to play on the Saturday.”
The same Frenchman continued his rose-tinted recollection of a sunglasses-wearing Ronaldinho strolling into training before his less than strenuous routine: “He’d get changed and he’d go straight to the massage bed to sleep.” Evidently his carefree approach on the field required specific preparation.