Strudwick: 'Success of a sports scientist is relationship with manager'
Written by Simon Austin — September 7, 2017
TONY STRUDWICK, Manchester United's Head of Performance, is approaching 20 years as a practitioner in professional football. We caught up with him at Soccerex to talk about changes in the industry, why Sir Alex Ferguson was ahead of his time and about the progress of Marcus Rashford.
Q: WHAT BRINGS YOU HERE?
Tony Strudwick: I’m here at Soccerex to look around and get some ideas about where we see player development going in the future. I'm looking at sports science management systems and anything else that might give us a lift.
When you work for a club like Manchester United, you are compelled to be innovative and at the forefront of the industry. This is a great learning opportunity and a chance to see where we need to be in the future.
Q. HOW HAS SPORTS SCIENCE EVOLVED DURING YOUR CAREER?
I first started out in the industry almost 20 years ago. My first job was in 1998 with Coventry City [as an exercise scientist] and sports science was in its infancy then. The growth in the industry has been game changing. Sports science today is more synonymous with looking for performance improvements.
Twenty years ago it was more about utilising the academic principles of science to increase physiology and physical output. Every club academy now has some level of sports science and/ or strength and conditioning support. The level of support and the level of detail and planning around player development has certainly increased.
Q: WHAT WAS SIR ALEX FERGUSON'S ATTITUDE TO SPORTS SCIENCE?
During his tenure at Manchester United, Sir Alex kept updating and trying to be innovative. Even when he first came down from Aberdeen in 1986 he was initiating things like pre-match meals and always looking around to see where the next innovations could come from.
He brought in foreign coaches, Rene [Meulensteen] and Carlos [Queiroz], and was always looking to get the edge there. He brought in someone to look at visual cognitive coaching, which was well before anyone else was looking at that.
Sir Alex gave us a chance from a sports science perspective and supported it. He believed in winning and he believed in performance. Sir Alex was well ahead of his time and I think that’s what separates him from his counterparts during his tenure.
Suffice to say that if I put a 100-page report on his desk it would still be there two weeks later, but he was always interested in where players were at. In terms of how we delivered that information, we had to be pretty intuitive.
Sir Alex was always looking to rotate his squad, to carry a big squad of 27, 28 players and looking for that angle of freshness and monitoring. The success of a sports scientist in the industry is your relationship with the manager, which is why so many managers take their own fitness coaches with them.
That conduit between practitioner and manager is pivotal and Sir Alex was terrific to work for.
Q. YOU WORKED CLOSELY WITH MARCUS RASHFORD AS HE CAME THROUGH THE ACADEMY. WHAT HAVE YOU MADE OF HIS RECENT SUCCESS?
Marcus is a well-grounded, well-rooted individual, which is first and foremost a credit to him and his family. Every challenge that has come his way, he’s managed to hold it and manage it. He has managed his own transitions really really well.
This is also a collective achievement for the Academy at Manchester United. What he's doing for both the club and for England is the end process of a number of years that people well before my time at the Academy put in place.
We’ve always had a terrific track record of providing a platform into the first team at the club and the coaches in the Academy have always had a really good grip on how best to develop young talent.
When we talk about a talent development environment there are a lot of people responsible for this end product. For example we have psychological support in the Academy, like a lot of other clubs do, even though it's a relatively new initiative.
Any time a Manchester United player comes through, we take a lot of pride in that. Marcus has done terrifically well and will be determined to keep improving.
Tony Strudwick will be one of the panellists at Cohesive Coaching on June 20th.