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Rio Ferdinand worried sports science is robbing footballers of 'robustness'

Published 11/05/2016

West Ham and Manchester United were among Rio Ferdinand's clubs
West Ham and Manchester United were among Rio Ferdinand's clubs

Rio Ferdinand is concerned that the present and coming generations of footballers are being robbed of their "robustness" through the influence of sports science on training and a culture of over-protection.

The accepted wisdom is that players in the modern game are the most athletic they have been, largely through superior professionalism and the conditioning provided by modern techniques.

England are also considered to possess a highly-promising generation of young players, many of which have played regularly throughout the past season, but in comments that evoke Roy Keane's previous insistence that there are those more interested in "selfies and six-packs", Ferdinand has revealed he is not convinced by the culture he has witnessed in training in recent years.

"Julian Dicks used to go out on the training field and just smash balls into the back of the net, and start training, no warm-up," said the retired England international, 37, who remained in English football throughout a career riddled with injuries towards its conclusion.

"Now it's a warm-up - before the warm-up even, you go into the training centre, you go into like a lab, and you've got to do a urine sample, a spit test, and go on a few well-being machines.

"The sports science guy comes up and says 'I don't think you should train today, you're at that level, if you teeter over the edge you won't be fit for Saturday; have a rest day'.

"All of a sudden you starting drilling someone in training, and a sports science bloke pops over: 'Woah, woah, woah, he's in the red'.

"That's what you're meant to be. I grew up in the red a lot of the time in training, and feeling sick, and when you get to a game you're conditioned, ready, and I just think that this new generation, sometimes with computers, are taking away that robustness."

Ferdinand was among the young players in dressing rooms dominated by veteran figures like Julian Dicks, Stuart Pearce and Paolo Di Canio when first playing first-team football at West Ham, before at Manchester United succeeding Keane, Denis Irwin and others as one of their most influential figures.

He fears that many of the qualities he valued are in decline, adding at The Telegraph Business of Sport conference: "To be honest, most of the players were like 'Woah, no, I need to train, I've got a game in two days, if I don't train I won't be mentally ready'.

"It was almost like technology vs the human body knowing what was best for the player. It's crazy.

"Sometimes it makes me feel like an old pro, almost like it's (wrapping) people in cotton wool.

"Everyone's in cotton wool now, that kind of hard graft and drilling people - making people feel what it feels like to hurt it training - that don't happen no more."

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