A familiar figure on the touchline at the PAT, Brazilian fitness coach Rod Pellegrino has been with Port since the summer of 2016, arriving at the same time as Head Coach Jadet. It’s his job to make sure Port’s players are fit & raring to go each week, and after an hour in his presence we were left in no doubt as to his energy and powers of motivation. We almost – almost – felt like doing a bit of exercise ourselves. Here’s what he had to say about life as a fitness coach in Thailand, as well as a few fitness tips for those of us who aren’t exactly in match-ready condition…
Tell us how you became a fitness coach in Thai football…
To talk about that, I have to talk about my father. He’s also a fitness coach, and he went to work abroad in 1998, when I was 8 years old. He worked in Saudi Arabia and other Arabic countries for over 10 years, and every school break I would go and visit him. When I was 14 I started to play football, I was a goalkeeper, I played U14 and U15 for Flamengo and other big clubs in Brazil, but I didn’t become professional because as you can see, I am not very tall! Brazilian goalkeepers are all very tall! So when I was 17 I said OK, I cannot be a goalkeeper, so I gave up and went to university to study Sport Science, and from the start I was doing internships at football clubs. After I graduated, I started to work as fitness coach in youth teams in some big clubs in Rio de Janeiro. But my dream and my aim was always to work with the first team and work abroad like my father. But in Brazil it was not so easy for me get work, because there are a lot of very good fitness coaches with more experience than me. So, I resigned and came to Malaysia to stay for a while with my father at T-Team in Malaysia. Then he got a good offer from another club, so T-Team offered me his job! I stayed for 2 years, then I finished my AFC licence and Mme Pang offered me a job at Port, and now I’m in my third season.
What challenges did you face when you first moved to Thailand?
Communication! At the club not so much, because most players understand a little bit of English, but outside, on the street, it was not easy. But in terms of football, comparing Malaysia and Thailand, Thailand is much better – the clubs are more professional, the players are more professional. Thailand is at a higher level. Thai players have more technique, they are fitter, more skillful.
And in comparison to the Middle East?
Arabic players they are not as professional. Why? They have two jobs. They work day jobs in companies, then in the evening they come for training, even in the top leagues – Saudi, UAE, Qatar, 75% of them have two jobs. So in the evening they are too tired. But they invest a lot of money in football, they bring in foreign coaches not just for the first team but also for their academies, they invest a lot in developing players.
We’ve heard that Thai players don’t have the best diet…how do you get them to eat more healthily?
I try but it is not easy! We give them energy drinks, glucose drinks, protein shakes, nuts, healthy snacks, and when we have an evening game they can come to the stadium 3-4 hours before and eat pasta to give them energy. Then after games or training we make sure they eat fruit and protein. After you exercise, your body has 2 hours to absorb food properly so as soon as you finish training you should eat, your body absorbs it faster. But we can’t control what they eat in their own time. In Thailand they like to eat food with oil, everything is fried, even bananas! They fry everything. It is not easy to change.
Who’s the fittest player at the club?
Nitipong, Adisorn, Genki last year, Arthit this year – sometimes I have to tell him hey easy, don’t train too much! Sometimes I go to the gym on my own and I see him there. Rochela, Suarez, they work a lot too. In terms of stamina, Nitipong and Adisorn. Adisorn he is like a dog, he never stops running around. The strongest? Nitipong, Dolah as well.
How do you help new foreign players adapt to playing in Thailand?
The first problem for new players is jetlag – they need a week to recover. Then they train only with me, especially in pre-season, so they can adapt themselves to the timing and climate, and I start from the beginning with fitness. I don’t push them because the first few weeks are difficult, I’m a foreigner so I understand that. Then step by step they can adapt. And of course we train every day after 5pm when it’s not so hot. Before that, it’s impossible, even dangerous. Sometimes teams want to put foreign players straight in the team, but it’s dangerous, they need time.
The long mid-season breaks must be difficult for you…
I complain a lot about that! You stop, 4 weeks, you have to give the players a few days off, and some of them don’t follow the training plan, they do nothing and their condition goes down so it’s like starting pre-season again and it’s boring for me and the players. It’s just training, training, training, and they want matches, competition!
What metrics do you use to judge players’ fitness?
In pre-season I do the yoyo test, where you analyse their aerobic condition – like a beep test. Genki was always the best, because he always used to train longer than anyone else! And he knew what exercise was right for him, as an older player.
During the season, every week we check their weight, and every 3 months we check body fat, in relation to their ideal weight. They’re all professional and they know what to do, but sometimes I need to tell them hey man, you’ve got to lose 3 kilos! And during the game I can see if a player is fit or not, after 60-70 minutes I can see if a player is getting tired and if we need to make changes.
Last season we let in a lot of late goals, this season we haven’t – is that related to fitness?
It’s not fitness, it’s concentration. Sometimes when you’re leading 2-1, 2-0 late in the game you relax, or you sit back & defend, and it’s easy for the other team to go up & score. This season it’s simple – we have better players, even on the bench. I’m not saying the team was bad before, but now we have more young players from big clubs – Bodin, Nurul, Kevin, very good players.
Interview by Tim Russell, Dominick Cartwright & Tom Earls. Pics by Tim. Many thanks to Rod for taking the time to be interviewed and for inviting us into the hallowed Port FC dressing room.