How United's coaches are managing the lockdown

Monday 20 April 2020 19:00

Three key members of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's backroom team have joined us for an exclusive United hangout, to provide a fascinating insight on how the players are getting on under lockdown conditions.

Steve McNally (club doctor), Charlie Owen (strength and conditioning coach] and Kieran McKenna (first-team coach) checked in for the chat, and explained what work they've been doing with the players during the enforced break from the Aon Training Complex.
Among the issues for discussion were mental health – with the players spending an unprecedented amount of time away from friends and colleagues – fitness and, intriguingly, cooking, with many of the first team developing their skills via Instagram after some encouragement from the club's nutritionists.
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"We managed to source a number of high-quality suppliers that were prepared to do safe home deliveries for them," said McNally. "We rolled that out to the players and they can basically choose a bespoke Man United hamper or food-type package. The nutritionist got the boys on an Instagram page looking at cooking lessons, so a lot of them have started to develop a new skill – and get injured in the process, one or two [laughs]!
“So hopefully they're not going without the required quality of food, [and] we hope the quantity is right! We understand obviously – and we're all probably doing it ourselves – when you're bored, it's easy to comfort eat. The nutritionists are obviously doing a weekly weigh-in as well, so they've got a scheduled weigh-in every Friday morning with set parameters of their body-fat levels. But we'll see what they're like when we get back!”
First-team coach Kieran McKenna said he'd also noticed an interest in cooking during his conversations with the players, revealing that Angel Gomes has been undergoing daily lessons from his brother, and Tahith Chong has been "chipping in" at his parents' house.
But McKenna said the most important part of the lockdown was maintaining contact with the squad, particularly the younger lads, who may not have extended families or partners to help them while isolating.
"There's contact going on all the time, be it from Charlie or myself or a doctor, or Ole, Michael [Carrick] and Mick [Phelan] are speaking to the players individually. I think it's important they feel that sense of connection. I think they're getting that in a lot of different ways, be that through the different social media avenues, or I've tried to ring quite a few – especially a few of the younger boys – to make sure they're okay, and try and stop Brandon Williams tackling his dog on a regular basis!"
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McNally said there were pros and cons to the break, but that he'd been proud of the way the players had responded to this period's unique challenges.
"For some it might be a bit of respite, a bit of relief, from the constant scrutiny – particularly the scrutiny our players get at this football club," admitted the doctor. 
“I think for a few it will have been a welcome break from that. But they thrive on those challenges of competition. They're all competitive by nature, individually – collectively, as a group, even more so. Training every day is very competitive, [and] they'll be miss that. Daily banter with the lads on the training field, and the positivity that comes out of that. I know they'll be doing it in their social media groups, and in the background, but it's not the same as training or the gym. There'll be some boys on their own; there'll be some with extended families around them; some preoccupied with young children. Distractions may help some, but others may have a lot of time to kill.
“Fortunately, most of the boys have been well and there's been no real issues at all. We're not getting injuries, fortunately – although there's been a few unusual complaints because of things like trying their hand at cooking, or being bitten by the dog, that type of thing! It's just a different focus. 
“But it's also been interesting just to see how self-sufficient and self-managing they've become really over the last few weeks. They've got a big team around them at ATC and when we're on the road, and we all want to do our bit to help them. They're on their own a little bit now, and I've been pleased and quite proud of them really, the way they've got on with it.
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“We thought about this as we knew we were going to go into lockdown, and we put together a package for them that gave them a number of resources they can tap into if they want it. We've not been heavy on trying to analyse them every day and get them too preoccupied with those things. we want positivity; we don't them want them to feel as though they should be having mental health issues. 
“But obviously we're very vigilant as a staff generally. I'll pick up on little clues. Charlie might do it in his daily sessions or compliance with them. Kieran will pick up on things, and we do talk to each other as a staff, and just have a look out for one or two lads depending on our gut feel and our knowledge as individuals.”
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Strength and conditioning coach Owen believes the biggest issue is keeping the players' training programmes fresh, as the UK lockdown enters its fifth week.
"It's trying to give them a menu of work they can choose from," he states. "Keep things fresh, keep things engaging, trying to stay in contact with them, in touch with them through different forms of social media, or text or WhatsApp groups, and just keeping them engaged really. Trying to change things up every couple of weeks."
“I think we were felt we were getting to a point where all the hard work that had gone in from the beginning of July really, and even before then with the planning, was beginning to come to fruition," laments McNally. "So it's a bit of a frustration as a team and a club and a squad to have to suddenly stop it in its tracks. 
“But if you just flip it [and say] that it's an off-season, last season I think many of the boys had probably the longest off-season for many a year – I think it was nine weeks from our last game against Cardiff to when we played in Perth. So if they've got that same sort of mentality of allowing themselves a bit of time to refresh and reinvigorate... a lot of the boys have got young children, and they'll never get this chance again in their careers. You have to take the positives from those sort of things.”

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