Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Backroom Business

We've had Fletcher and Mackay and now West Ham are looking to add Baraclough to their growing list of Slade Prison namesakes. The club are reportedly close to appointing former Scunthorpe boss Ian Baraclough to their coaching staff, according to several sources. Sam Allardyce is keen to bolster his backroom team after seeing Kevin Keen leave for Liverpool earlier this week and has lined up a move for the highly-rated coach as he begins his plans for next season. Baraclough took his first steps into coaching when he was named first-team coach under Nigel Adkins at Scunthorpe in 2006. The 40-year-old replaced Adkins as manager last September following his departure to Southampton, but he was dismissed by Scunthorpe in March with the club rooted to the bottom of the table. Sky Sports state Baraclough has gained the reputation as one the best young coaches around and Allardyce believes he will be a valuable addition to the Hammers set-up.

It is likely Baraclough would become the coach to link the Academy and developing players to the first-team squad; the only position Allardyce said he had left to fill in the restructuring of his immediate backroom staff. The new Hammers boss had initially been tipped to team up again with his former coach Sammy Lee at Upton Park. The former Liverpool coach left Anfield last week, and had previously worked alongside Allardyce at Bolton Wanderers. "We are looking to bring in one more coach, but it will not be Sammy," confirmed Allardyce yesterday. "Sammy is a first-team coach, but I have Neil McDonald and Wally Downes here already. We are looking at people at the moment though, and hopefully we will have someone in place in time for the trip to Switzerland at the end of the week."

The news comes just days after West Ham secured Martyn Margetson as their new goalkeeping coach and extended the contract of Tony Carr. Margetson, 39, held the same position at Cardiff, but has left the Welsh club to join Sam Allardyce's backroom team at Upton Park. He trained with the West Ham squad today ahead of making the move permanent. The Hammers boss had been in the hunt for a new goalkeeping coach after Coles was relieved of his duties along with first-team coach Paul Groves. Margetson, who also works with the Wales national team, will now coach the fit-again Peter Kurucz, Marek Stech and Ruud Boffin, although it remains to be seen how long the Welshman will have the chance to mentor Robert Green, who is expected to leave the club, should a suitable offer be received.

Meanwhile Carr signed a new five-year deal with the club. The world-renowned Youth Academy director, whose existing deal was up this summer, put pen to paper on a contract that will keep him tied to West Ham United until 2016. The 60-year-old has been employed by the club in a coaching capacity since 1973, and only last year he was awarded the MBE for services to football. Speaking to last year Carr admitted that despite the lure of offers from elsewhere, he always intended to see his career out at Chadwell Heath. "If the club want me to stay I'd like to stay," he said. "I'd like to go on for another three or four years, if I'm honest. I'm quite healthy, I still enjoy it, I still think there's work to be done. We've got good kids in the system and I want to see them develop. I hope there's going to be some good players coming through in the next three or four years and I want to be part of that. Obviously there comes a time when you go 'look Tone, as much as we love you you've got to pack it in'. And I understand that. But whilst I'm still quite fit and healthy... the day I stop enjoying it is the day I go 'thanks, but I've done my bit'."

If Baraclough does arrives it will be as direct replacement for the departed Keen. The Hammers stalwart left his role as first-team coach only last week to take up a similar position at Anfield, but is anticipating a return to the Boleyn Ground with his new club sooner rather than later. "I am extremely confident with the squad that is there, that even if West Ham lose a couple of top players, this time next year Liverpool will be playing West Ham in the Premier League and I can't wait to be back," he said. Having served the club for nearly 20 years as player and coach, Keen admitted he would miss the close connection with the passionate Hammers faithful and said they would always be close to his heart. "The supporters have always been fantastic. I thank them for their support. I have been at the club for nine years as a player and nine years as a coach and I have learned so much from good managers, the likes of Paul Heffer and Tony Carr and also from those people who don't always get the credit. A part of me will always be claret and blue. It is the right time for me to move on but you never know what will happen in the future."

Wally Downes is equally confident of the Hammers chances and told West Ham TV a strong squad will be key to getting the club promoted this season. Downes expects the club to hit the ground running in the npower Championship, with the first-team coach emphasising the need for a collective desire to get the job done. In short, he expects the story of the season to be about the team and not the individual. "This season it is going to be about how strong and how supportive the squad is," he said. "It is not about the eleven players or the 18 players, it is about 20 or even 30 players because of the amount of games we are going to play, it will be about 50-60 games a season on a regular basis. Players have to be ready to come into a successful side and perform to the level of whoever they are replacing."

With such an arduous challenge ahead, the work of United's Sport Medicine and Sport Science department will be of paramount importance. It is their hope that a unique new system will keep players out of the treatment room. In partnership with the University of Ghent (UGent) and Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) in Belgium, the Hammers have introduced individual risk profiles for every professional. The profiles will cover two specific areas - injury prevention and performance progression - and allow head of sports medicine Andy Rolls and first-team physiotherapist Stijn Vandenbroucke to constantly monitor player's individual performances, risk areas and injury histories.

With the help of the two universities, each profile will be updated on a daily basis throughout the season and will be accessible via a password-safe website to enable players and staff to keep tabs on their condition from anywhere on the planet. To kick-off the project Rolls, Vandenbroucke and the Hammers' medical staff have started screening squad members using a range of balance, flexibility and strength tests. The test results will help them to identify areas of individual strength and weakness and tailor each player's training schedule to minimise their chances of being injured.

Following next week's pre-season trip to Switzerland, the players will undergo performance progression screening at Chadwell Heath later this month, adding to the data available. Regular tests will be held throughout the season. Vandenbroucke explained the purpose of the screening in detail . "We are testing for injury prevention because we want to create an up-to-date risk profile for every player for throughout the season," he said. "Therefore we need to know what their weaknesses and their strong points are, so we're testing their flexibility, strength, stability, core stability and balance, jumping and a few other things. From there on, together with the universities, we can work out what they need to do during the pre-season and the season."

Vandenbroucke said the pre-season tests would stand the players in good stead ahead of what will be a busy and demanding season in the npower Championship. "I think it's going to be a very tough season with a lot of games and physical demands on the players, so I think in the pre-season we have to grab the chance to make everybody as strong as possible so we can go as far as possible in the competition." Belgian-born himself, Vandenbroucke said the roles played by his fellow countrymen at UGent and VUB would be of huge benefit. "We have worked together with these universities because they have created an algorithm [list of instructions] which will help us on a daily basis with injury prevention and performance progression. "After each training session, they will help us to create an injury-risk profile for the following day so we know if players have trained well, if they are fatigued or if they are at risk of suffering a certain injury. We're trying to use evidence-based data and use Sport Science at a high level."

Having blogged two weeks ago about how Sam Allardyce has been in the vanguard of football's scientific revolution, it is the clearest indication yet of the direction the club is now moving. While Rolls and Vandenbroucke collate their data, the manager has been busy running the rule over his squad this week in training before they jet off on Friday. He has declared himself happy with what he has seen. "It has been lovely weather and the boys are looking very enthusiastic. Everyone looks like they are glad to be back," he said. "Last season was a miserable one, but we have to put that behind us and start to work on the task ahead and that is getting straight back into the Premier League." The trip to Switzerland, where they will play two games, is one Allardyce is looking forward to. "I have always gone on pre-season tours in the past and they are an invaluable way of getting to know everyone and improving the team spirit," he said. "We have lots of new faces among the players and the staff and this will be the perfect chance for everyone to get to know each other."

And with that it was off for a run through Hainault Forest, where back in the 60's it had been a common sight to see the likes of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters working to up their fitness levels ahead of another long and gruelling campaign. The tradition continued into the 1990s, when Paolo Di Canio was among those spotted jogging and sprinting through the trees. This week, the manager reinstated the old tradition with a modern slant, taking his squad for a 'speed play' sessions that include walking, jogging, high-intensity running and hill sprints.

Fitness coach Eamon Swift explained that the trip to the forest also provided the players with a welcome change of scenery as they stepped up their preparations for the 2011/12 npower Championship season. "The manager is very interested in the psychology of the players and very interested in changing environments, so the main focus of the session is to have a change of stimulus," Swift explained. "We went to Hainault Forest, which is something we haven't done for a while and wouldn't normally do, and while we were there we did a change of speed session. The players did a walk, a jog, a three-quarter pace run and mixed that into a 25-minute period. We then finished with some hill repeats - periods of climbing with some walk recovery. The players did not run for the full 25 minutes - it was a 'speed play' session including periods of walking, jogging, 75 per cent running and tempo running. It was not just one pace the whole way through. It was a 45-minute session in total with a warm-up and stretch recovery to finish."

While the sessions prove to be both testing and fun for those involved, Swift said it would also provide important performance data for the science bods analysing the players' fitness levels. "We used heart-rate monitors so there will be a conditioning response. The main thing is that we got the lads together in groups and they were geeing each other on and, in the bits when they didn't have to work so hard, they got together and were chatting while the staff followed behind on bikes and gave them extra motivation where necessary. It was a good morning. The lads were very happy about it afterwards, so I think the most beneficial part about this session was bringing them together and helping to enhance the team ethic."

West Ham start their pre-season campaign with a match against Young Boys of Berne on Monday, with a 6pm kick-off, before playing FC Basel on Wednesday.

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