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Witness the Fitness: The Sandpit Meets Rod Pellegrino

 

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. 

 

Friendly Fun in the Hua Hin Sun: Port FC 3-1 Chennaiyin FC

 

Port defeated Chennaiyin FC 3-1 in Wednesday’s friendly played in Hua Hin. Chennaiyin, coached by former Villa and Derby boss John Gregory, are playing six pre-season games in Thailand to prepare themselves for the up-coming ISL season. Port are in the middle of one of 2017’s numerous T1 mini-breaks, and will return to action against Super Power on November 8th.

 

 

Chennaiyin opted to start the game with their strongest XI, whereas Port went with their second string. The difference between the two sides were Chennaiyin’s foreign contingent, and the intensity at which their team played. Between their fearsome Brazilian centre-half Mailson Alves (27) and John Gregory on the touchline, there never seemed to be a moment where instructions weren’t being barked out. Gregory has clearly emphasised the importance of communication to his charges, and he practices what he preaches, delivering constant instruction as well as some wry critiques of his players’ performance. Being in ear-shot of the Englishman was one of the most entertaining aspects of a first half that offered very little for Port fans to get excited about, although a superb header from a particularly alert member of the ‘crowd’ also drew cheers from the Port bench. Unperturbed by the height on the wayward clearance, the spectator showed superb technique, cushioning his header directly into the path of Meechok, and keeping the game flowing. Admiring claps, and chants of ‘sign him up’ may have been in the spectator’s imagination!

Port went about their business quietly, looking decent at best in defence and midfield but lacking any cutting edge up front. Chennaiyin captain Inigo Calderon (14) and the aforementioned Alves were dominant in defence, with Wuttichai (14) and Tana (99) unable to get anything at all out of them going forward. Dutch winger Gregory Nelson (7) also looked to be dominating Meechok (20), although the youngster stuck to his task and managed not to let the bigger, more powerful Nelson get on the scoresheet. It was no surprise when the visitors’ took the lead. It was their most impressive Indian player Jeje Lalpekhlua (12) who got on the end of a cross from the right, heading the ball back across Watchara (66) with authority and giving Chennaiyin a deserved advantage. Port created a couple of half chances, but never really threatened to break down their well-organized opposition.

 

This was not the XI that started the second half, but after a few more substitutions, this is what the team looked like.

 

Everything was to change in the second half, though. Both sides made numerous substitutions, with Port strengthening and Chennaiyin weakening. Chilean-Palestinian forward Jadue (we’re not sure about his number, as he was wearing a #22 shirt with Rochela’s name on it!) made a rare appearance up front, whilst first-teamers Suarez (5), Nitipong (34) and Pakorn (9) injected a bit more quality in to proceedings for Port. One of Jadue’s first actions in the second half was to let Alves know he wasn’t going to be as much of a pushover as Wuttichai and Tana. He made a late challenge on the Brazilian, sending him crashing to the turf, and invoking hysterical laughter from everyone’s favourite goalkeeping coach Milan Devic on the touchline. Devic proceeded to mutter to himself excitedly in Serbian, while Jadue braced himself for retribution. Fortunately for him, Alves was substituted shortly afterwards, and Port finally started to have some joy going forward.

 

 

It took a penalty to get Port back in to the game, and the Port bench were greatly amused by the fact that Jadue stepped up to take it, while sporting his Rochela shirt. Jadue hit his penalty firmly, but it went more or less straight at the ‘keeper, who will have been disappointed to have let it squirm past him. Not quite what El Capitan would have done!

Chennaiyin fought back, though, and soon had a penalty of their own. From our less-than-ideal vantage point, Pravinwat’s (55) tackle was very close to the edge of the area, but the referee adjudged that contact had been made inside. Devic once again sprung in to action, keenly watching goalkeeper Watchara as he prepared to face the spot-kick. Watchara dived to his left, got two strong hands behind the effort, then bounced straight back up to save the follow-up from point-blank range. Magnificent goalkeeping from Port’s third-choice stopper, who didn’t put a foot wrong all afternoon. Devic roared in celebration from the touchline, high-fiving everyone in sight. Watchara has done his chances of moving up the goalkeeping hierarchy no harm whatsoever.

After the penalty save, it was all Port. Chennaiyin were not playing at anywhere near the intensity of the first half, despite having an almost entirely fresh XI on the pitch. Even Gregory on the touchline was subdued, watching Suarez and Pakorn grab the game by the scruff of the neck and continually cause his rejigged defence problems. Pakorn hit the bar with a superb curling effort which the Chennaiyin goalkeeper did well to get his finger-tips to. He got his revenge on the ‘keeper, though. Anyone who has seen Pakorn take corners form the left knows that he likes to keep his opponents on their toes, and sure enough he embarrassed the Chennaiyin stopper by curling one in to the near post, catching everyone by surprise with yet another direct goal. Shouts of “Ronaldo” from the bench were well received by a grinning Midfield Monk!

Port’s third goal came relatively soon after, with Jadue breaking through the centre and hammering a left-footed effort in to the bottom corner from just inside the area. It was an excellent finish from the man who is clearly playing for a place in the squad in 2018, although we’re not sure that his overall performance merited two goals.

 

 

We were fortunate enough to watch the whole game from right next to the dug-outs, so after the game we were able to have a chat with a few of the staff from both sides. John Gregory was particularly accommodating, having a lengthy chat with us about all things Chennaiyin. Here are some of his comments.

 

 

The Sandpit: What did you think about the game?

John Gregory: “You’re lucky we took our best players off!”

TS: Your team did play very well in the first half. Very intense!

JG: “That was more or less my First XI. This is only their second pre-season game, so I expect more from them in the coming weeks.

TS: Were you particularly impressed with any Port players?

JG: “I don’t watch the opposition when we play friendlies, I’m completely focused on my own players.”

TS: We could see that! Your club is part-owned by an actor and a cricketer, how do you get on with them?

JG: “And a businesswoman! [Bollywood actor] Abhishek Bachchan, [cricketer] MS Dhoni and [businesswoman] Vita Dani are all fantastic to deal with. I have 100% autonomy over transfers and team management.

TS: Chennaiyin is a very young club, isn’t it?

JG: “We were only founded in 2014, but the club has an excellent philosophy for the future. The owners would rather spend money on developing the grass-roots than go out and get a big-name marquee player. The club is certainly moving in the right direction.”

Thanks to John for chatting with us, and good luck with the upcoming ISL season!

 

 

We were also lucky enough to have our picture taken with coach Jadet, and have a chat with Port fitness Coach Rod Pellegrino. The Brazilian came out with the quote of the evening when we asked him about the up-coming game with Super Power, saying “We must take the game very seriously. We are like the Robin Hood of Thai football”. We couldn’t agree more, Rod! We also asked El Capitan why he and Josimar didn’t feature, and he responded “We’ve played many times this season, so it’s good to have a rest.” Are you staying with us next season, David? Are you?! “I don’t know. Nobody knows.”

You tease, you…