“WHEN I MOVED TO ENGLAND AND TOLD PEOPLE HOW I WORK, NOBODY REALLY TOOK ME SERIOUSLY.”
Dr. Javier Mallo is fitness coach at Real Madrid club de futbol. This interview is about his journey in professional football, his internal rebellion and tactical periodization – the training methodology of Jose Mourinho.
PROathlete: What is your philosophy on football conditioning, Javier Mallo?
JAVIER MALLO: My training philosophy is based on the game with the aim of encouraging the decision making process of the players; developing pro-active players who are able to read the game and interact independently. During many years football players have been trained following methods taken from individual sports. When I started working with professional football players, around 12 years ago, I felt that what I was taught in the University, during my Sports Science degree, did not reflect the reality of what I confronted on a day-to-day basis. The linear methods and traditional periodization models characteristic of the traditional theory and practice of training textbooks did not suit my personal reality, where the team had to compete every week at its best during a 9 month long competition period. Thus, I started to search for a different way to organize the training tasks, looking for alternative periodization methods, reading from all kind of sport coaches, watching other people train… to develop my own training strategy. This has been an open and unfinished process, as I am still changing bits and pieces of it, though the main ideological references are non-negotiable: developing the game insight and favoring the brain over the muscles.
PROathlete: You have worked for Atletico Madrid, Manchester City and now for Real Madrid. An impressive roadmap. Please tell us where the trip started and what was your vision at the beginning?
JAVIER MALLO: I studied Sports Sciences in the Technical University of Madrid for 5 years. I have always been a football practitioner and played at semi-professional level in Madrid, but when I was in my second University year, I liked so much what I was studying that I decided to become a coach. As soon as I finished my degree I started to work with academy football [Rayo Majadahonda] and later in a professional team of Madrid´s region [U. D. Sanse] where we were promoted from Division 3 to Division 2B and I stayed a total of 6 seasons there. Later I moved to Atletico de Madrid, where I worked for 4 seasons, coaching some young players who are now at elite level as De Gea [Manchester United], Koke [Atlético de Madrid], Camacho [Málaga] or Álvaro Domínguez [Borussia Monchengladbach], among others. All of these players have played with Spain´s national team during the last years. In the season 2010-2011 I moved to England, to work as 1st team/EDS Sport Scientist/Strength and Conditioning Coach at Manchester City. The duties as a fitness coach were very different in Spain to England, but it was a great experience to work with the best coaches and players in Manchester City. In the 2012-2013 I joined Real Madrid, where I currently work as fitness coach of the Under 21 professional team and as Head of Fitness in the Academy [Under 19 to Under 8 teams].
PROathlete: Jose Mourinho is a pioneer in the application of tactical periodization. What makes him special?
Javier Mallo: I did not had the chance to directly work with Mourinho because when he was working at Real Madrid I was working at Manchester City, but all the references I have from him are excellent. Personally, what I most like from him is his training methodology. I think many people stay with Mourinho´s pose but don’t investigate what he does on a day-to-day basis. All the people that have worked with him highlight the fact that everything to be done in the training sessions is with the ball and at a great intensity. For me this is crucial, so I think Mourinho is a great reference for all of us who think that there are different ways to do things in football. In addition, I think he has very good group management skills and a great ability to make tactical substitutions during the games. This capacity to read the game faster than anyone is probably one of his greater qualities as a top-class manager.
PROathlete: Different places yield different problems. At each club you were faced with different challenges. How did you excel this?
JAVIER MALLO: Really, the challenges I have had to face have been cultural, especially when moving from Spain to England. The role of the fitness coach in England is quite different, as it is related to off-the-field activities: GPS, heart rate monitors, nutrition, gym… and not so much about the game itself. My philosophy is the opposite: I think the game should be the epicenter and GPS, nutrition, gym… are a complement, but not the principal aim.
PROathlete: Imagine you were 20 years again, which advices would you give to yourself?
JAVIER MALLO: If I had to start again, I would give more importance to learn other languages. In Spain we have been very limited in this sense. Even though schools offer English as a second language, it has not been given enough importance during the past decades. The geographical situation of Spain, at the corner of Europe, has reduced the influence of other cultures. Except for searching for the sun and tourism, nobody will end up in Spain. Thus, Spanish people have been very happy and self-sufficient living on their own for many years. However, during the last years and due to the economic crisis, Spanish young people have had to migrate to other European countries and have had lots of communication problems with other people, as they lacked from language abilities. In a football context, this is also very important as nowadays, coaching staffs are multicultural and you need interact with people from other nationalities. For instance, I think that speaking other languages is a great competence for those who work in sport.
PROathlete: In 2014 you published your book “Periodization Fitness Training”. What is the aim of the new book?
JAVIER MALLO: The origin of this book was an internal rebellion. When I moved to England and told people how I work (or we worked on Spain), nobody really took me seriously, because fitness coaches felt more comfortable with out-of-the-ball activities. They always asked me for references to read about the “Spanish” methodology to train in football, but none of them were published in English, so there were severe linguistic barriers for me to overcome. This was the origin of my book and I hope to publish a new one in 2015 to explain Paco Seirullo´s [FC Barcelona fitness coach] and Vitor Frade´s [Tactical Periodization] training methodologies.
PROathlete: Designing a playing model is a head coach´s major task. For many coaches it is interesting to know how top coaches like Jose Mourinho transfer their playing model from draft to field performance?
JAVIER MALLO: You need to conjugate both issues: develop a Game Model and systematize it in training through a coherent methodology. In the case of Mourinho, the essential features of his playing model have been respected in all the different teams he has managed during the last decade. Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, and again Chelsea, share common principles which are characteristic of Mourinho´s playing model. The methodology used by Mourinho to make his players acquire the Game Model is known as Tactical Periodization. Briefly, everything to be done in training under this methodology has to Specific to how the coach wants his time to behave during the game. The Game Model is hierarchized and articulated in a series of Game principles and sub-principles which are developed in the weekly training unit: the Morphocycle. In addition, there are series of methodological principles which have to be respected during this weekly pattern.
PROathlete: Which literature is a “must have” for strength and conditioning coaches in team sports, besides your new book?
JAVIER MALLO: I continuously buy books on the web and I try to get them from very different topics. As an example, some of the latest themes of books I have bought have been: Systems Theory, Complexity Sciences, Emotional Intelligence from authors such as: Capra, Morin, Damasio, all kind of theory and practice of training textbooks from Matveev or Bompa to Bondarchuk, Verchoshanski or Issurin; biographies of football managers about Mourinho, Guardiola, Bielsa, Rinus Michels; functional strength [Boyle, Elphinston] or books about the history of football tactics or football literature for instance Wilson or Galeano. As you can see, I read almost everything that gets to my hands.
PROathlete: I agree that reading is a great source of inspiration and an excellent end of our conversation. Thank you, Javier, for your interesting and inspiring insights.