Football: Expert fit to join Juve legends

Graeme Whitcroft talks to an eye-witness of the wonders of Italian training methods
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The Independent Online
THE household names at Juventus trip off the tongue: Alessandro Del Piero, Zinedine Zidane, Didier Deschamps, Marcello Lippi. But the man known as the Preparator, Gianpietro Ventrone, has played an equally influential role in the Italian club's stunning success.

Ventrone is Juventus's physical "preparator" whose revolutionary training methods fire the finely tuned, built-to-last, engine room of this remarkable side who on Wednesday contest their third consecutive European Cup final, against Real Madrid in Amsterdam. One fellow fitness expert allowed to witness this intense regime is Peter Edwards, formerly with Nottingham Forest and Manchester City, who spent 10 days with Juve earlier this year watching their physical preparation.

He has been studying Italian fitness and conditioning methods since 1990, but even he was surprised by Ventrone's methods. "He is using a unique system compared to most Italian clubs," he says. "Scientifically, he has left nothing to chance because everything is charted on a computer. The equipment is phenomenal. Individual players have their own high technology gear with each piece attached to a computer so every player can be assessed at any given second of his programme.

"The first-team squad are constantly monitored for power, speed, stamina and flexibility. Their blood is also checked every 15 days to test for any abnormalities so they can be rectified immediately.

"If an English club plays three matches in a week they will usually give the players at least one and probably two whole days off that week. That just doesn't happen at Juventus. When I was there they played three big matches, against Milan, Lazio and Monaco. Ventrone was not afraid to work the players hard the day after the Milan game even though they were due to play Monaco three days later.

"When I asked them, they said it wasn't a problem for them to play that frequently and train as well. They showed few signs of tiredness in those matches. I thought they could have kept up that level of intensity for at least another 20 to 30 minutes in all three games."

Not surprisingly players who are reaping such benefits are happy to co- operate with Ventrone - even if their routine would have the average British player begging for mercy. "It's not a chore for the players," Edwards says. "The atmosphere in the training ground is positive and happy. They enjoy the training because they know the benefits it brings. Del Piero admitted he didn't know how he'd survive without it. There's no such thing as a day off for Juventus players. They train twice a day, morning and afternoon. They start at 9am and are handed their day's training menu so each player knows exactly what is required of him."

Rest and recovery programmes are built in. Ventrone is supported by his No 2 "preparator", Antonio Pintos, who specialises in aerobics, four masseurs, two doctors, two physiotherapists, one osteopath and an electro- cardiologist. The training camp is conducted like a top-secret operation, according to Edwards. "There is an armed fortress mentality about the place with guards everywhere."

One Premiership manager has already tried to emulate the Italian methods and with no small success. Arsene Wenger has been happy to reveal that Arsenal's success this season is due in part to the module system of training which originated in France but was brought to prominence by the success of Parma in the early 1990s under the coach Nevis Scala and "preparator" Ivan Carminati,who are now at Borussia Dortmund.

"I'm not advocating a wholesale change to Italian methods," insists Edwards. "What I am saying is that British clubs need to develop the areas of their training and take from it what will benefit our game."

English players would not enjoy losing the chance to hone their golf skills. Edwards recalls how one of the first things he did on his arrival at the camp was to ask the Juventus players their golfing handicap. "What's a handicap?" said Del Piero.