Po­chet­tino fit­ness regime spurs Kane to new heights

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - PAUL WIL­SON

GARETH SOUTHGATE be­lieves Eng­land can profit from the fit­ness regime Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino has in­tro­duced at Tot­ten­ham, with all the Spurs play­ers in the na­tional squad show­ing marked im­prove­ments in strength and stamina over the past cou­ple of years. Un­til now the Ar­gen­tinian’s ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to Eng­land World Cup hopes was to leave his left leg dan­gling for Michael Owen to trip over in Sap­poro in 2002, but Southgate in­sists his train­ing meth­ods speak for them­selves.

Even when Po­chet­tino was at Southamp­ton, who also em­ployed his present as­sis­tant, Jesús Pérez, Southgate noticed the Saints play­ers in his un­der 21 squads showed sim­i­lar fit­ness gains.

“Mauri­cio and Jesús are on to some­thing,” Southgate says as he pre­pares for the in­ter­na­tion­als against Slove­nia and Lithua­nia. “We see a def­i­nite difference in their play­ers’ fit­ness lev­els. It’s what al­lows them to play the press­ing game they like to play. It was the same with Southamp­ton, you could see the im­pact on the play­ers from their club train­ing.”

That is one of the rea­sons, Southgate feels, why Harry Kane is presently sweep­ing all be­fore him, with an­other two goals yes­ter­day to add to his re­mark­able tally of 12 in Tot­ten­ham’s last six away matches. Southgate has known the player for a while, though at un­der 21 level he gen­er­ally pre­ferred Saido Ber­ahino, be­cause un­til Po­chet­tino ar­rived at Spurs Kane was not the prom­i­nent fig­ure he has since be­come.

“At the time Ber­ahino was out­stand­ing for us, he scored goals im­me­di­ately,” the Eng­land man­ager ex­plains. “We quickly took a view that be­cause he was play­ing reg­u­larly for West Brom and deal­ing with Pre­mier League football that he was our best strik­ing option.

“Harry was not play­ing so of­ten for Spurs and missed a cou­ple of Eng­land camps with in­jury, though you could see right from the start in train­ing that his fin­ish­ing was deadly. The qual­ity he was show­ing in front of goal took me back to watch­ing Alan Shearer, Rob­bie Fowler or Paul Sc­holes. We still wanted to know whether he could trans­fer that into matches, then he got his chance at Spurs un­der Tim Sher­wood.”

Southgate reck­ons the big­gest change since then has been phys­i­cal, with a stronger Kane grow­ing into the role as line leader and gain­ing con­fi­dence from a se­ries of im­pres­sive per­for­mances. “I think you can see the con­di­tion­ing work they do at Spurs has im­proved the team and Harry has ben­e­fited from that,” he says.

“He now looks strong, lean, a lit­tle bit quicker and sharper. When we played France he was up against some world­class de­fend­ers and he was run­ning in behind them and along the sides as well as be­ing strong and clever. That then has an ef­fect on your men­tal­ity. If you know you are in good phys­i­cal con­di­tion then men­tally you are in a bet­ter place.”

This is all very well, though the down­side for Eng­land should they reach the tour­na­ment in Russia next sum­mer is that over the course of a season Po­chet­tino’s de­mands on his play­ers could add up to ex­haus­tion. Kane might look the very model of a fit and fo­cused striker at the mo­ment, but with Eng­land at Euro 2016 he looked tired, a mere shadow of his present self.

While Southgate would not be the first Eng­land man­ager to grap­ple with the prob­lem of jaded play­ers at sum­mer tour­na­ments, he sees no rea­son to be un­duly pes­simistic at this stage. “I think Spurs sign­ing Fer­nando Llorente will take some of the weight off Harry,” he says. “The other night in Europe they were able to take Harry off with 20 min­utes to go. Those lat­ter stages of games are the ones that can have a real phys­i­cal im­pact when you add them up. But I know what it is like to play in tour­na­ments, I know what it is like to play 45 or 50 games in a season.

“I can’t say I am a huge be­liever in burnout. I think you can be men­tally fa­tigued, but phys­i­cally it’s about get­ting the right level of train­ing, the ap­pro­pri­ate stim­u­lus to make sure peo­ple are ready. We should have enough ex­per­tise to get the play­ers to the best pos­si­ble level. It will re­quire all the play­ers to be look­ing after them­selves right, but some- body like Harry will do that any­way. He is al­ready will­ing to do what­ever it takes to give him­self the best chance. He’s metic­u­lous about his diet and metic­u­lous about the way he re­cov­ers from games.”

De­spite Eng­land’s poor record in re­cent tour­na­ments — the main fac­tor in be­ing over­taken by Wales in FIFA’s world rank­ings — Southgate is un­daunted by the task ahead should Eng­land qual­ify for a place at the fi­nals in the next few days. “We are not short of ar­eas we think we can im­prove,” he says. “We see masses of op­por­tu­ni­ties for de­vel­op­ment of individuals and the team.

“Our job is to analyse why we haven’t done well and work out how to get bet­ter, and there’s plenty for us to work on. What I know from my own ex­pe­ri­ence is that when you reach the end of the season ev­ery­one is in a dif­fer­ent place. Some will have only played 20 games and be quite fresh, oth­ers might have played 50 or more and need han­dling dif­fer­ently.

“We will have to pay at­ten­tion to in­di­vid­ual sit­u­a­tions and I agree with FIFA about a manda­tory rest pe­riod at the end of the do­mes­tic season, even if it is only a week long. There needs to be some sort of men­tal switch-off from club football be­fore a tour­na­ment, but even then you have to be care­ful be­cause there is a dan­ger that you might tail off too much and then not be able to get back.”

Gareth Southgate: ‘You could see right from the start in train­ing that Harry Kane’s fin­ish­ing was deadly’

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