Jose Mourinho revolutionised training in England thanks to the ideas of Vitor Frade and that legacy lives on this pre-season. With the help of one of Frade’s famous students in Carlos Carvalhal, Adam Bate examines the roots of tactical periodisation and why the ideological debate about it is still having an impact in the Premier League right now…
For many players, pre-season means running. The fitness work feels endless. Keep going until you feel sick then go some more. As for the ball, forget about it. All in good time.
That was the old way but most of the top clubs do things very differently these days. Some are even following a methodology that was formulated not on the green fields of England but inside the classrooms of Portugal. These clubs are led by coaches who are inspired by ideas devised by the Portuguese academic Vitor Frade at the University of Porto.
Frade is no household name but his reputation within the game is huge and his influence can hardly be overstated. Jose Mourinho was a high-profile early advocate, transforming the nature of training ground preparation in English football as a result. Frade is routinely described as a genius and his impact is everywhere in the modern Premier League.
Compatriots Marco Silva and Nuno Espirito Santo have been inspired by his methodology. Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers picked up on it during his time at Chelsea. Liverpool assistant Pep Lijnders is an admirer too. Similar approaches are used by Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino, meaning that his fingerprints are all over the country's top teams.
Image: Vitor Frade, the man who changed the game [Credit: Periodizacao Tactica] "Vitor Frade is the brain of it all," Carlos Carvalhal tells Sky Sports. "He is the brain of a thing called tactical periodisation. You could call him a kind of scientist but he is a very practical scientist because he worked at Porto under Sir Bobby Robson and he did his work on the pitch. At the same time, he was very academic and clever. He is a fascinating man."
Carvalhal's relationship with Frade dates back to his youth.
"He was my teacher at the University of Porto," he explains. "When you go to the classes you must learn about genetics and complexity theory. I was 27 when we started tactical periodisation. I studied for five years, three of them just doing football under him, and it was during that time that I gave my contribution to tactical periodisation with my thesis."
What is tactical periodisation?
Explaining tactical periodisation can be complicated but the premise is relatively simple. A good starting point is to completely reject the notion of physical training in isolation.
Speaking at a coaching conference in 2005, Mourinho said: "Many clubs do fitness work separately sending players for 45 minutes with a fitness coach, but I don't believe in this. I do not believe in practising skills separately. You have to put together all these aspects in a match situation. There are exercises that can improve your physical qualities using the ball."
Image: Mourinho transformed Chelsea's approach to training upon his arrival in 2004 His success helped transform how teams prepare so totally that it is worth noting this was not the accepted wisdom at the time. "For our generation, it was unheard of to get footballs out in the first pre-season session," John Terry told Monday Night Football. "He told us that you never see a pianist running around a piano, you see a pianist work on the piano."
Carvalhal offers an analogy about building a house before opting for a simpler explanation of the thinking that guides this methodology. "We understand the importance of the physical, the technical and the psychological," he says, "but in this periodisation what controls everything is the tactical. This is why it is called tactical periodisation.
"We look at our players. We decide the system that we want to play, the idea that we want to create, and from there, from the very first day of pre-season, we draw up exercises to follow our idea. So, from the beginning, we work with high intensity with more time to work. Day by day we progress the intensity to prepare for the first game of the season."
Mara Vieira, executive director of Tactical Periodisation by Vitor Frade
The importance of Jose Mourinho…
“Jose Mourinho was the first world-renowned coach that used this methodology and publicly declare his belief in it, so his importance has been huge,” Vieira tells Sky Sports.
“This methodology is now spread all over the globe because people who have been influenced by the professor are coaching now in many different countries. Hundreds of people have already travelled to Porto to meet and discuss football with Vitor Frade.”
The future for tactical periodisation…
“First of all, it’s still an unknown methodology for most people. And people are always afraid of new things, especially if they become fashionable. For example, one of the most common misunderstanding is to think tactical periodisation is just training with the ball.
"They come from Japan and United States, from Spain and England to talk with him and try to learn," says Carvalhal. "A guy came from Brazil to study tactical periodisation and wrote a very good book on it. I can tell you that I have had more than 100 people asking to see our training sessions, more than 100. A lot of people are still curious about it."
Frade might not be famous, but he continues to have a big impact on how the game is being coached - and what the game's greatest players are being asked to do this pre-season.
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