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Mick's Manchester United Career

Mick with the first team at Carrington Training GroundMick with the first team at Carrington Training Ground

In the year 2000 Mick was appointed to what many would consider a 'Dream' job. Mick became the coach for the world top Football Club Manchester United. Not only would he end up coaching the first team players, he would also coach the Gaffer Sir Alex Ferguson himself. During his 11 1/2 years working with some of the top footballers in the world, he has personally coached such names as Roy Keane, David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Darren Fletcher and Gary Neville to name a very short few.

Mick Clegg was United's strength and conditioning coach from early 2000 until 2011. Mick, short in stature wasn't short of vocal Manchurian motivation. Mick, as a teenager wasn't interested in fitness, in fact he was in a band. What changed his whole life around was seeing a picture of himself! “I was in a band and we had some photographs taken" he recalls “my arms were skinnier than the strings on my guitar! That made me go to the gym, and within three months people were asking me how I had filled out so much”. He found he enjoyed training at the gym and found it easy to motivate others he ended up taking on a coaching role at that very gym, Mick had become a dedicated fitness fanatic. Weightlifting and boxing became his main pursuits and by the age of 27 he would be owner of his own gym, The Olympic Sports Gym in Ashton-Under-Lyne.

Two of his son's, Michael and Stephen, showed an inclination towards football and they benefited from their fathers weightlifting background. “They weren't the most skilful but they were very powerful strong lads" says Mick "they were both small full-backs so they need that extra strength that we developed". Mick's other two sons, Mark & Shaun were already making their own names as national/international weight-lifting champions. Michael and Steven were both headhunted by Manchester United and both, who belied their small stature, made it into Manchester United's youth setup.

Mick at this point was also lecturing on coaching on a part-time basis at Openshaw technical college, but on the basis of having two of his sons make First Team and Reserves Mick was brought in to work at Manchester United Academy. "The club recognised the work I had done with Michael and Steven so Rob Swire helped bring me in on an occasional basis."

When Mick began at United his role was new. No coach at the time was using such things as boxing and weights with the players and the idea of Cognition in sport was totally unknown. Working part time with a few of the lads in his first season he was one day introduced to an injured Roy Keane and it was from that moment his coaching life changed completely. During that first season of involvement with the Reds, Roy Keane's injury proved to be a pivotal point in Mick's career. He was given an integral part of Roy's rehabilitation to which Mick introduced boxing and weights as part of the rehabilitation routine. The rest of the lads watching from the sidelines started taking an interest and gradually started drifting in to join the sessions eager to work with him. Steve McClaren – then assistant manager – noticed Clegg's knack for getting the best out of players and offered him a part-time contract. Mike's position quickly became permanent and he went on to play a key role in ensuring the physical development of every play on United's books during his time there.

After observing training demonstrations with key First Team players, Manchester United management requested a two hour presentation on how the whole squad’s power, speed and fitness could be improved. This initiated implementation of one of the earliest advanced strength and conditioning programs in the EPL and directly overlapped a ten year golden period in the club’s success. His Strength and Conditioning role meant ensuring optimal physical development of every player on United's books and integrating return to play recovery programs with athlete rehabilitation.While taking a pivotal role in ensuring that the total fitness levels of all players from First Team right down to school boys, Mick has evolved to meet the high standards demanded for top level English Premier League clubs and players. This included in-depth psychological exposure to players combined with first-hand guidance for career dedication and competition confidence and continual assessment of a wide range of the latest training technologies and methods which he then integrated the best of these to create advanced training systems, including a Cognitive-Reactive Training Zone.

Mick's central coaching responsibility over the years has been the development and rehabilitation of some of the biggest players in the world of football, past and present:-

5 years working with Cristiano Ronaldo;
3 years David Beckham;
3 years Wayne Rooney
10+ years with Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville
Mick talks about the Manchester United Players

Mick says..."I have had the amazing privilege to have been the power development coach at Manchester United Football club from 2000 to 2011. My job entailed training the first team, reserves, youth team, and the schoolboys. My everyday function involved working with some amazing sporting athletes. Major stars including Roy Keane, Jaap Stam, David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney and Darren Fletcher have all been trained by myself over the years."

Roy Keane

The first major elite athlete I trained with was Roy Keane at Carrington training Centre, Manchester United's new training complex. I was asked to come in and work with Roy and when I got there I found he was already warmed up ready for action and of course I had never met the guy before so the first thing I said to him after shaking hands and saying hello “Roy, do you drink tea?” He said to me “what?” I said “Do you drink tea?” he said “yes of course I do” I said “lets leave the training for a while and lets go in the canteen, have a cup of tea”.Now the important thing was I needed to get to know this guy. I had seen him on TV, watched him in games, all the rest of it but its completely different when you meet someone for the first time and you are going to be training them, and although the physio was there with him and he had specific ideas of what he wanted to do with him I really needed to get to know the personality to see how I would need to handle him. Of course that wasn’t going to happen straight away, it takes time but the initial meeting with somebody is of absolute importance to get to know the personality in a small way at first and build on that. So we went upstairs and he talked to me for about an hour about his life, what he had been through, what he liked doing and what he didn’t like doing and it gave me a massive opportunity to learn and understand from a great star.

From then on the training became very very easy because I had an understanding and he knew a little bit about me as well. He knew I was prepared to listen to him, he knew I was prepared to understand what he wanted, and to try and make sure that he got all the bits of training that he thought was necessary for him to be effective on the pitch after a major operation because he had an ACR problem and that's what he was coming back from, he had the operation, he’d had his physio treatment, he had started his rehab, and I was becoming involved in that. He was going to go, from my point of view, from rehab to performance training, is very important to understand him, to listen to him, and then to see if he could use the ideas that I had and whether they would be effective for him.

One day at the Manchester United gym, Roy Keane came to me and said “Mr Clegg, you use me in the gym like I am a crash test dummy for your development.” I replied to him “Roy, you are benefiting form cutting edge revelations so shut it and do it!” Roy did. After years of working with Roy, I observed he has more levels of grey matter than he was ever renown for. He is a truly great sportsman.

Both Roy and I share a love of boxing. “Roy would wind me up until I told him to shut up,” revealed Clegg. “He encouraged me to have a go at him, he liked to stimulate aggression from everyone around him and that made him successful. He turned amateur boxing techniques into boxing for football, boxing-type training for reactions, speed, balance and power.”

Ryan Giggs

Mick Clegg says..."Ryan Giggs was unbelievably trainable, always open to new ideas. I constantly gave him the opportunity to use lots of different types of training, some of those included Yoga, strength training as well as some specialised balance training. The other thing with Ryan was the fact he was also a very shrewd young lad who had the understanding and strength of character that if it didn't challenge him mentally or physically it was a waste of time so it was a challenge in itself to keep the training varied to keep him fully involved."

"Unlike the vast majority of other football stars of the era, Ryan was known as the wise man of football, always keeping out of trouble throughout his career. He was always know as the "family" man, there was never any gossip about him. When I was asked to do the feature in Muscle & Fitness in July I was asked about Ryan, and this was the fact that I stated so clearly about him, how he was the real deal. Then what happened? Two weeks later "THAT" story broke.... yep it was a shock to us all!!!!"

Cristiano Ronaldo

“He took on a new level of total dedication to his training because he wanted to be the best footballer in the world,” he said.

“He filled his time with football, his whole life was dedicated to it. He even had his own cook so that he was eating well all the time, he made sure he bought a house with a swimming pool so that he could do more training."

“Some players over-do it. I’ve seen players train themselves into the ground because of insufficient knowledge, but Ronaldo was more intelligent than that. He’d train hard, but he’d listen to the specialists around him, the coaches, the manager, the other players like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He took their advice in pursuit of personal excellence.” Ronaldo would also arrive early so he could prepare properly. “He’d be in the gym with me doing core work, then he’d do activation, then his actual football training.”

Training done, that was the point at which most footballers went home. “Cristiano would come back into the gym and do some power work for his legs,” recalls Clegg. “Then he would go home, eat the right food, swim, sleep, where I’m sure he dreamed about football, and come back in the next morning."  He did that for five or six years and, knitted together, that made him become the player who was sold for £80m. “They say you need to put 10,000 hours in before you can become great at something, be it painting or playing the guitar. Ronaldo did that – and more."

“He arrived aged 18, the perfect time. Some players at that age go through a funny phase where they doubt themselves or think they are better than what they are. They curtail training. Had they done what Ronaldo did, they could have been far better. Some of the other United players are excellent trainers, but they didn’t quite do as much as Ronaldo. He was a really nice person too.”

Darren Fletcher

Fletcher openly cites the influence of strength and conditioning coach Mike Clegg as a major factor behind his transformation. Gone is the wispy, willowy youngster who shirked the weights; in his place, an unerringly dedicated pro who’s mastered his body. Clegg, a vocal motivator, ushered Fletch onto the right road by showing him a flesh-and-blood blueprint for physical perfection: Cristiano Ronaldo. “I’ve worked with Darren since he was a teenager,” says Clegg. “But he wasn’t kicking on. I told him to look at Ronaldo and the way he was utterly dedicated. He came into the gym every morning and after every training session. If Darren wanted to get the best out of himself, he’d have to match that. So he started on a plan and steadily worked harder and harder, and over 18 to 20 months got it right.

“Gym work is a very fine balance – few get it spot on. Darren’s learned the secret of striking the balance between what you do on the pitch and what you do in the gym. At the moment he’s got it absolutely nailed. He’s in the gym every day. Some days I’ll say he needs to do more of something; others I have to tell him he’s had enough. It’s a balance, but Darren is absolutely bang on at the moment. The only other player I’ve worked with who got it so spot on was Ronaldo.”

High praise indeed. But Clegg’s not done with the compliments. “Fletch’s lifestyle is perfect. It’s not just down to his training, diet, or being teetotal. He’s got a nice wife, nice children, a good lifestyle and he’s fulfilling his dreams. He’s a very motivated, happy guy who is successful in his work.”

Paul Scholes

“Paul was the opposite of Ronaldo in many ways,” recalled Clegg. “He’d get ill, he had asthma. I wouldn’t consider him an athlete. His endurance capacity was low, he wasn’t strong, quick or powerful. His strength was in his ability to see around him better than any other player. His cognitive processing was better than any other player, he knew exactly what was going on around him. He was the best at reactions.

Rio Ferdinand
Rio loved his body and being in shape,” said Clegg. “He’s a great presence and players listen to him.

David Beckham
David bought some boxing gloves off me, but saved his best efforts for football training rather than the gym.

Wayne Rooney
Wayne is like that, he loves boxing and actual football training, but not the gym work as much.”

Mick and the Manchester United Youth Squad

In September of 2010, the club initiated a drive to shift focus in training with the development of higher standards of home grown players in the Academy and to improve transition rates into the Reserves and First Team. Mick's central coaching responsibility shifted to the youth setup and he was given the role of taking charge of the total fitness and development of over 120 youth with the opportunistic aim of drastically increasing the club’s player value to player purchase ratio.As part of this change of direction, Mick took a visit to Pittsburgh in preparation.

As part of the new position Mick would be opening and running a new gym for United’s youth academy. Mick's trip to Pittsburgh was to to help in understand working with younger players and he was looking into the physical and mental development of younger players. “When you train adults and then go work with younger players, you have to realize that they’re completely different,” Mick said. “The adult players totally know themselves, and that’s one of the most important things as an athlete. Young kids really don’t know themselves, especially with injuries and things like that. I’ve been to the United States many times, but this is my first time in Pittsburgh, and everybody’s been so good to me.”

At the end of the 2010-2011 season with Mick's own gym becoming more and more busy plus his continual exploration into cognitive training in sport Mick left United to concentrate on his own training methods with the creation of his Sports Performance Innovation lab running beside his Olympic Sports Gym.

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