The final 11 games of the LaLiga season were always going to be a sprint and, following a 1-0 win away to Athletic Club Bilbao, Real Madrid are undoubtedly steps away from crossing the finish line victorious. There are plenty of theories as to how Real, starting with a deficit, have been able to take charge of the title race. The home of seven of the last 10 league titles would have you believe that referee favouritism was behind it while others have pointed to the Champions League style marathon LaLiga has become post-COVID.
What has slipped under the radar is Real Madrid’s fitness. Its sort of a given that a professional athlete, especially at Real Madrid where most of them own home gyms, should return after a break in peak physical condition and that was a presumption I agreed with for a long time. However, seeing the level above players like 34-year-old Sergio Ramos are physically, even compared to players as equally equipped, has made my think that there is more to Real’s post lockdown fitness than just having the tools.
Alex Clapham, currently coaching Swedish side Ytterhogdals IK, told Castilla Corner that the presence of his own sports therapists and backroom staff was a relief because training isn’t just putting cones down every morning and playing ball. Denied even that strategy for four months, the cogs behind the scenes deserve plenty of credit for Real Madrid’s success none more so than fitness coach Gregory Dupont.
Despite arriving from world champions France, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Dupont was a relative unknown in the football world when he arrived at Real Madrid last July. Outside of previous coaching spells with Lille and Celtic, Dupont was better known for his academic work than his training regime. Nonetheless, he was given free reign under Deschamps and arrived in the Spanish capital highly recommended “He’s the best at individual work, athletics, nutrition, everything we call invisible work, everything that involves prevention, gaining muscle and data storage,” said Guy Stephan, France’s assistant manager.
Official Real Madrid announcement: “The club announces the appointment of Grégory Dupont as head of fitness coach. Dupont replaces Pintus, to whom Real Madrid thanks for the exemplary work amd commitment during his time here & wishes him luck at Inter.” pic.twitter.com/OgL69gzEJM— SB (@Realmadridplace) July 6, 2019
A member of the UEFA team for injury prevention, Dupont has rightly earned his nickname “the scientist” by obsessing over data around nutrition and preventing injury particularly those caused by fatigue (he was part of the team that discovered players were six times more likely to be injured when they played matches less than 72 hours apart).
Despite his knowledge for the theory, it seemed none of it was able to prevent Real Madrid’s rocky start. Within a handful of pre-season games, Marco Asensio tore his ACL while Eden Hazard looked miles off the pace physically. Injuries plagued the squad and even when on-pitch turned for the positives and the adaption to Dupont’s method was difficult for some.
It would be bold to lay the credit for Real Madrid’s current fitness solely at the feet of Dupont. After all, most if not every player at Madrid has his own personal trainer and is undoubtedly strict about their own fitness. However, reading over the quotes during and after the lockdown, it becomes clear that the fitness team at Madrid had a massive input.
“I think I’m in better shape than before the quarantine,” Sergio Ramos told Real MadridTV in April, “we gave so much importance to this situation that after losing our training routine in Valdebebas and also the games, we focused so much on our diet, our rest and obviously the individual work.”
Just a few weeks ago, Casemiro echoed a similar sentiment on the same channel “The work we did at home was important and we did the things that the club and coaching staff sent us. We’re working well and you can see that the players have been working out at home. We kept our physical fitness up and you can see that out on the pitch”.
Dupont has widely been reported has having remained in constant contact with the players and oversaw group training sessions via a video call before the team returned in early May. He and Zidane were reported to have trained for the end of LaLiga like a World Cup. The specifics of their input will likely never be known, however, if you want a taste of Dupont’s diligence and work ethic, one need only look back at the 2018 World Cup.
The current Real coach was let loose by Didier Deschamps in Russia and mirco-managed everything down to the temperature of the water for each match depending on the weather conditions. He made personalised 14 page documents for each player separating their foods into categories and telling them which categories they should eat and when. He helped customised their hotel rooms to make them more comfortable so they’d achieve the recommended 10 hours sleep each night.
This week has been a bad week to write about the fitness team at Real with Marcelo the latest to go down with a injury yesterday as bodies begin to wear in the face of the finish line. Had I written this a few weeks ago when Marco Asensio scored on his return to football then this article might be better received. The player himself was the main reason he has returned for this crucial stage, but naturally the clogs behind the scenes deserve some credit as well. Both Dupont and Zidane chose to keep Asensio in the loop despite the devastating nature of his injury and worked tirelessly to bring him back for the end of the season.
Its unfair that praise should have to work this way, after all, Dupont and his team are experts in the field of injury prevention not injury elimination and even now that work deserves credit. Raphael Varane was able to quickly bounce back from a knock this weekend while Benzema looks set to do the same for the Villarreal game. That’s not just a credit to Benzema and Varane’s fitness but also the team that help put them in that condition.
Having worked with a group individuals who for long periods weren’t even allowed to leave their homes, Dupont and his team deserve massive credit for where Real Madrid are now.