Soon after Antonio Conte's hiring in the summer, stories started emerging from the Chelsea camp of the famously disciplinarian and detail-oriented new head coach's strict fitness and health regimes, which extended even as far banning certain foodstuffs from the training ground and the players' diets. It was all very 21st century, which, given that we are a decade into said century, was perhaps a bit overdue. Gone were fizzy drinks and brown sauce (whatever that may be) and probably things like pizza and pasta and other heavy carbs that were once considered the cornerstone of this healthy pre-match prep*.
For whatever reason, this topic came up in yesterday's press conference, which gave Conte a chance to clarify some of those earlier reports with what his actual ideas regarding fitness and diet are.
"Before the preseason we explained that we wanted only the right balance when eating, with carbohydrate, protein and fat. Not to prevent or ban something, only to explain the right balance between these things."
(You're safe, Cesc Fàbregas, even though obviously you were buying that much food to feed your entire family of many!)
"At the end of my career I started to eat very well, and I felt the benefit of this. For this reason when I started my new career as a coach, I wanted to bring this idea to my players. I think it's a good solution because you don't ban anything -- you just want the right balance to eat carbohydrate, protein and fat."
"It's important because it can also prevent injuries. You recover very quickly, you're more fresh in the mental aspect. I think this because I tried it myself."
-Antonio Conte; source: ESPN
Conte also joked a bit that he obviously has to eat this well so that he doesn't give himself a heart attack while going mental on the touchline.
"I am worried about this [heart]. For this season I try to do my own training sessions to maintain good physical form. I know I risk a bit, but I might consider putting a GPS system on myself to monitor my heart-rate during a game."
-Antonio Conte; source: FourFourTwo
Just one look at Conte should make it obvious that he's in pretty great physical condition, especially for a man in his late-40s. And that doesn't happen by accident (as I, myself, am slowly learning here, a decade his junior).
"I pay great attention to my food. I prefer always healthy food. I also run sometimes when I have time to do fitness -- for 30, 40 minutes. I change the rhythm of my run, but not [go] too strong, also because I think that in my career I ran a lot!"
"In the training ground we have four pitches and I run around them. Sometimes I try to involve my staff!
"I prefer to avoid carbohydrates, and to eat protein and vegetables. But when I stay with my family, my wife and daughter, it's spaghetti. I like pasta. I try to avoid it because it's a lot of carbohydrates ... Nutella is not good."
-Antonio Conte; source: ESPN
No sneaky beer carbohydrates here!
Conte's strict regimes are paying off for Chelsea so far, as the Blues have tended to finish games strongly since the beginning of the season. For example, of the 27 goals Chelsea have scored in all competitions, 9 (or exactly a third) have come in the 80th minute or later; many of which were either game-tying or game-winning goals even, not just ones to pad the scoreline.
Of course, Conte's methods and emphasis on physical fitness are not without their critics, but as long as we keep winning and progressing in the right direction (and keeping a pretty good injury record), I don't think we'll be complaining too much.
* I find myself often recommending the Second Captains football podcast — they are pretty great, after all — and I will do so again for their episode last week that had a segment with Dundalk fitness coach Graham Byrne, who espoused similar ideas as he talked about keeping their set of overachieving players healthy and ready to compete in Europe. This episode also discusses Chelsea's 4-0 win over United, so it's double fun for the price of one.