Even seasons without coronavirus, the schedule offered to good teams in La Liga Smartbank, Spain’s second division, is madness: 42 league games, plus any promotional play-offs (for teams ranked from third to sixth place) and several Copa del Rey rounds. When he arrived last summer at the head of UD Almeria, current third in the standings and winner on Wednesday of Osasuna in the round of 16 of the cup, José Gomes wondered how he was going to face fifty matches. by June.
The solution quickly appeared to the Portuguese coach: to set up two different teams. Turn its workforce of around thirty players to the maximum, to keep the whole group on alert, to avoid injuries and to keep up to the average pace of two games per week.
“The easiest way was to change the team at each match”
“At the start of the season, given the number of players I had, I told myself that there was something to give everyone playing time,” said the former assistant of Jesualdo Ferreira in Porto, Malaga and at Panathinaikos. I had two options: either draw a typical team, with the risk of accumulating fatigue, and therefore increasing the risk of injury, or make it spin. I wondered how we were going to set up this rotation and I came to the conclusion that the easiest way was to change the team in each game. “
Simple. But no team does, not even those with daring coaches and international players at will. Moreover, José Gomes did not dare right away. After three defeats in the first four days, the Portuguese coach decides to take the plunge and realize his crazy idea. “We went to play Sabadell with a new eleven and from there I started to alternate in every game. The players have embraced the idea and give their best whenever they get the chance. ”
Two eleven, in matches as in training
Ivan Balliu, one of the backs of Almeria, slips the instructions for a unique system at this level. “We have two eleven different who are used to playing together, in matches and in training. Me, I play all the time with the same central defender and the same winger, so we understand each other perfectly. The keeper is also the same. I had never experienced this type of situation. Sometimes a coach changes a winger, a fullback and a striker. He changes the whole team. “
José Gomes admits to having feared the reaction of his players when announcing his unusual project to them. “It was risky, of course. Some must have said to themselves: “He’s crazy, what is he doing?” But as the results followed, there was no problem. ” Its workforce responded well and quickly adapted to this particular mode of operation. “We have a very good relationship with the coach, he is very close, talks to us every day, asks us questions,” reports Balliu, trained at Barça and passed through FC Metz. More than a coach, he’s a bit of a psychologist who knows how to involve everyone and makes us all feel important in this project. All the players know they will have their chance and therefore stay focused. “
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“The players responded in a phenomenal way, knowing that it takes a good tactical understanding on the part of everyone and mutual trust for it to work,” says José Gomes. I am in awe of how close they are, they all feel involved and important in the group. When a player isn’t summoned or isn’t playing, there is always a point where investment suffers. It’s human. With this rotation system, the group dynamics are better. “
“I have only one team. Not an A and a B, not even two A ”
This is confirmed by Ivan Balliu, who now praises the benefits of excessive rotation from a global point of view. “Of course I would like to play all the time, but it’s impossible, admits the defender. I feel good, this pace is ideal for the team. Psychologically, it’s positive. Those who might feel that they are titular do not relax, because they know that nothing is taken for granted. And those with fewer minutes are training vigorously. The level of training is higher than what I have known so far. “
José Gomes does not want to make any difference between his players and underlines the importance of maintaining the notion of group. “I have only one team, insists the former coach of Videoton (Hungary), Al-Taawon (Saudi Arabia), Reading (English D2) and of Maritimo Funchal (Portugal). Not an A and a B, not two A teams. Depending on the moment and the game to be played, I decide who plays and who stays on the bench. It’s important that everyone is treated the same, that everyone has the same opportunities. For me, it is essential to preserve this feeling of justice on a daily basis. ”
On Spanish football:
Jaime Milheiro accompanies him in this adventure, both as a friend of twenty years and as a doctor of the team. A key position. “We work over specific periods,” he explains. For example, between November 23 and December 20, we played nine games in 27 days. We were able to get a better idea of each other’s profiles during this period, during which we had few injuries, which will help us through a similar period in February and another during the last six weeks of the championship. I talk a lot with José and he’s the one who has the final decision. We know more or less how the players are doing, so I have a responsibility to tell him if he needs to be careful and how to deal with tired bodies. ”
40% fewer injuries
Ivan Balliu affirms that “there have already been games where we were far superior physically to our opponent”. “This season, we wanted to improve performance, but above all recovery because it is one of the secrets of sporting success, as much as food, stress, hormones or even sleep”, continues Milheiro, who is also preparing a doctoral thesis on overtraining, recovery and hormonal balance. Sleep is precisely the other key element in the successful revolution of Almeria. “We have set up daily monitoring and support based on responses to a daily questionnaire that deals a lot with sleep, on a subjective scale. We ask the players how they felt when they woke up, how they rated their sleep. “
“If I say that I did not sleep well, my training will be adapted according to these data, details Ivan Balliu. They ensure that injuries are avoided as much as possible. ” According to the club doctor, they went “from 32 to 19 in the first part of the season, a drop of 40%”. Another success of the Gomes-Milheiro duo, while Almeria has not left the top 5 of the Liga Smartbank since mid-November and will host Sevilla FC on February 2 in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey.
One of the Spanish masters of training: