Fitness the key for Thadani

THE Blues' friendly with Crystal Palace today pitches two of the fittest teams in the country against each other and for Ipswich that is largely down to coach Simon Thadani, writes Derek Davis.

THE Blues' friendly with Crystal Palace today pitches two of the fittest teams in the country against each other and for Ipswich that is largely down to coach Simon Thadani, writes Derek Davis.

The former RAF instructor works closely with Joe Royle and Willie Donachie in getting the players to a level where they will perform physically to their best for a gruelling 10-month season – and not just the opener against Gillingham in a fortnight's time.

The players hit the ground running as soon as they returned from their summer break with two sessions a day, including stints at RAF Wattisham and the Royal Hospital School – coupled with afternoon ball work.

A week in Denmark included two matches with training and swimming in between and they take on the Eagles today in another step towards their Championship challenge.

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Thadani said: "It is coming on as planned but there is still a lot of work to do. We have only just started concentrating on speed.

"But it is not just planning to be ready for the first game. We are looking at the whole season. We have 50-odd games and we have a small squad. Ipswich is not centrally located so we have to plan for the tiredness which comes from travelling, so it is not just physiologically."

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There will be no hiding place for any of the Town players on the pitch where every aspect of their game is scrutinised, whether it is the youngest, 18-year-old Dean Bowditch, or the eldest, 35-year-old Jim Magilton, whose legs, despite some supporters' concerns, can still hold their own with the very best.

Thadani warns: "Prozone will tell me exactly where everyone is after the first game.

"It measures each player in terms of how often they ran, jogged, walked, how many high intensity sprints they made, how far they have run everything.

"People talk about how David Beckham covers 13km a game for Real Madrid, well we have several players who do that – including Jim Magilton."

Ian Westlake, Darren Bent, and Tommy Miller are probably the fittest players at the club and early indications are that Kevin Horlock is a very fit lad.

Under Iain Dowie and his Australian fitness coach, John Harbin, Palace gained a reputation for their physical attributes and while Prozone may back that up to an extent, psychology played a big part with the new regime of swimming and boxing making the players believe they were fit for the challenge of winning promotion – and they did just that.

Town players have included a wide range of activities, including swimming and boxing, in their training for years and have developed a reputation for the ability to slug it out until the final whistle.

But Thadani believes how the statistics are used has a bearing.

He said: "It all depends on how you measure fitness. Some clubs go by VO2 max (aerobic endurance) others like their players all to be lightning fast, while others prefer mental toughness to physicality.

"At Ipswich we define it with a bit of everything and our pre-season is based on getting the foundation. We ensure we get players fit without any getting injured, which is important with such a small squad.

"We have been working on strength work, inner core work, so they don't pick up injuries such as groin, hamstrings that type of thing.

"It is all about people. For example we all know Jim is not the quickest player at the club but his aerobic endurance is outstanding."

The first thing that goes when a player is tired is his concentration which means mistakes and inevitably goals, so that is something the Blues work on.

Thadani said: "The last 10-15 minutes of a game are when fatigue comes in and fitness becomes important then.

"So it is my job to make sure that the players are mentally and physically right.

"The mental side is something we are working and learning on all the time. At the moment I get them physically ready so they can cope mentally when the manager calls on them to do something more adventurous or we are chasing the game.

"At the same time you can have the fittest people in the world but can they kick a ball? In an ideal world we would have athletes who can play football but it doesn't work out like that."

Having the raw material to work with helps and at Ipswich a lot goes into ensuring the youngsters brought in will not just be one-week wonders.

Thadani said: "We have some great youngsters at the Academy but we have two or three-year plans for those. We work with Bryan Klug on that and they have the football skills but we know we won't see them develop fully physically until they are 19-20-year-olds."

But in today's predicted heat this particular pre-season friendly could be a case of survival of the fittest.

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