Rob Elliot: “Time to get Premier League ready”
Watford goalkeeper and ONE Glove director Rob Elliot talks us through his and his team-mates’ pre-season campaign, ahead of the Hornets opening game of the Premier League season against Aston Villa on 14th August
So the Euros are over [congrats Italy, condolences England] and all eyes will soon focus again on the domestic campaign and for us at Watford, that means a return to the Premier League.
We’ve been back in training for a couple of weeks now but long gone are the days when the players returned out of condition and needing to wear bin liners to sweat off their excess pounds. In fact, throughout the summer, you don’t really stop at all. You keep yourself in shape, with the only rest being from the day-to-day training and intensity of games.
Players view their time off in the summer as an opportunity to refine their strength and conditioning. Some might want to put on a bit of weight, others might want to lose it, but you want to come back in the best shape possible, just so you can hit the ground running, given the standard of competition, both within the squad and the opposition you’re going to face.
The one thing I’ve noticed as I’ve got older is that training isn’t as hard physically as it once was, but it’s more constant and the levels are much higher. The sessions are more focused on speed, agility and power. The balls are out on the training ground from the very first day and memories of long hill runs are long gone. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of running for the lads but it’s more measured and more appropriate to what they do in a game: a lot of really high intensity short bursts.
For the first couple of days after we came back, we did all our fitness and health tests together as a squad but the goalkeepers soon split off, simply because our work is so specific. We have our own set drills but you’re also finding now that the goalkeeping coaches are liaising closely with the sports scientists, to help with the training we do. For example, there’s no point in us doing lots of long sprints or extended runs, as it’s not conducive to what we need on a match day, so instead we will focus on a lot of leg work, a lot of power and speed work over short distances.
We had double sessions every day for the first week, but last week we started joining in with the rest of the team more. We’ve been doing a lot of tactical work, and also working on crossing, shooting and finishing, so it’s been good fun. You start to feel more sharp in week two and certainly by week three. We had an in-house game at the weekend and our pre-season fixtures start this week, with the aim of being ready for our first Premier League game against Aston Villa.
So does training differ if you’re a Premier League side compared to the Championship? I would say at the highest level you do more tactical training because you have the time, given there’s only one game a week. That’s helpful as you need the time to work on your tactical adjustment; for instance, if you’re playing Man City away or a team that plays on the counter-attack like Crystal Palace, you need more time to plan because they are so good at what they do.
In the Premier League, contrary to popular belief, it’s still tough physically because of the intensity at which the game is played at. You’re also less likely to have the ball, so the work you do is without the ball, which puts you under a lot of strain. Imagine defending for 70 minutes away at Man City; that’s a lot of strain on the legs and also the mind!
In comparison, the Championship games come so thick and fast, it’s literally play, recover, play recover. If you’re a strong team like we were last season, you can concentrate 90% on what you’re going to do and 10% on them, which is a big advantage, whereas those percentages are much different in the Premier League.
From a personal point of view, I might not be first-choice keeper here, but I have to go into pre-season and the season itself with the mindset that I’m ready to play. I came into the squad last season when Ben [Foster] was injured and Dan [Bachmann] was playing well. I was then on and off the bench, but I train as if I’m going to play and certainly at Premier League level there is no other way. You’ve just got to back yourself; I had a tough time [towards the end at former club Newcastle] where I wasn’t getting many opportunities to be involved and it was frustrating, but since I came to Watford, it’s a really good environment and if the opportunity comes, I’ve just got to take it. That’s exactly what I plan to do...