By Daniel Garb
Liverpool’s former head of conditioning, Australian Darren Burgess, and his sports science countrymen have now all departed Anfield. But they do so with fond memories, and plenty of stories.
As the man entrusted with getting the players physically fit for the past two and a half years, Burgess knows them better than most.
He spoke to Fox Sports Australia’s European Football Correspondent, Daniel Garb on behalf of the Anfield Wrap, about why Brendan Rodgers can lead Liverpool to success, being kicked by Luis Suarez, what made Maxi Rodriguez his favourite player and the catalyst for Soto Kyrgiakos’ sudden onset of amnesia.
D.G – Darren, you left Liverpool a couple days after the Man United game last month, are you missing the club and the city?
D.B: Absolutely. Once you’re part of the inner family you never really want to leave. It’s costing me a lot of sleep watching the games here and I’m definitely missing being a part of the club
D.G – Why have you departed?
D.B: A couple of reasons. Primarily, there was a motivation to come back home, I’ve been travelling for six and a half years now through my posts with the Australian national team and then with Liverpool. Then an opportunity came up back home with a club that I love and wanted to be a part of (Australian Rules club, Port Adelaide). It was a tough decision but in the end this is where I’m from and I thought it’s probably a long term project that Brendan is undertaking and I probably wouldn’t be around long term, so it’s better to leave now so he can get somebody in who might be around for the long term.
D.G – Brendan, from what I believe wanted you to stay but as most managers do, he brought in his own team did that have an influence on your decision?
D.B: Yes and no. Brendan certainly wanted me to stay as did the rest of the staff from Swansea that he brought in. But by the same token, Brendan has a specific way of coaching and training and I think he was very comfortable bringing in people around him who were familiar with that way. I wouldn’t say it had a big influence on my decision because I certainly learnt a lot under Brendan for the time I was there and I certainly think he’ll be the coach that delivers success to Liverpool in the short to medium term. It was more the opportunity to come back home after being away for six years.
D.G – Do you feel yourself, along with the rest of the Australian sports science team that have now departed in Dr. Peter Brukner and physio Phil Coles, have left the club in a better place?
D.B: I hope so. It’s hard to tell because the staff were very good before we arrived and I’m sure the people they’ve replaced us with will also be pretty good. But certainly the injury rates were less when we were around so that’s obviously a good sign but I’m sure the guys there will continue the good work that we hopefully put in place. You like to think that we made some impact on the players in particular.
D.G – What are the major changes that the Australians implemented?
D.B: The best thing that we were able to do, and it wasn’t just the Australians it was all the other people that were already there, but we were able to provide some unity between the departments, between the fitness the medical and the physio departments. Often in clubs, by their nature the physio and medical departments may be a bit more restrictive and the fitness department a bit more aggressive in their training but because we were all familiar with each other we were able to bring the departments together, so that was a big thing. The other thing we brought to Liverpool that wasn’t there as much before was the monitoring of the players, the GPS and heart rate which wasn’t used as frequently before.
D.G – You alluded to it briefly before but why should Liverpool fans be confident that Brendan Rodgers can lead them to success?
D.B: The main reason is the players want to play for him. He has a great relationship with the players he’s very loyal to his staff which means they want to do a great job for him, but the main thing is that the players really like him and want to play well for him and like his style of football. I think the team with the addition of a few more players will be top four material, no doubt about that.
D.G – How do the three managers you worked under compare – Brendan, Kenny Dalglish and Roy Hodgson?
D.B: Roy was an absolute gentleman; he was very structured in his coaching he had a certain idea just like Brendan and Kenny did about how he wanted to play. I have a lot of respect for Roy, he probably didn’t get the credit he deserved at Liverpool and I’m aware of who I’m talking to in this interview and that a lot of Liverpool supporters didn’t warm to Roy but you have to look at the team he had in week one against Arsenal,his first game compared to the team now, it’s a very different team. Kenny, with Steve Clarke and Kevin Kean then came in and provided some great stability and when you work with someone like Kenny Dalglish it’s an absolute pleasure. I hated playing against him in the staff five-a-side’s he was just so competitive and let’s just say some of the refereeing decisions were a little questionable, as he was the referee. But, he was unbelievable, the players immediately respected him. It’s worth mentioning Steve Clarke as well, Steve, most people may forget was Mourinho’s right hand man for however long so Steve was unbelievable on the pitch during the week. He knew everything about every opposition, his drills were terrific the players loved him and warmed to Steve and it’s no surprise to see how well he’s doing at West Brom. Brendan is very similar to Steve in his views on football having been influenced by similar people. Brendan’s very much a coach, he’s on the pitch all the time, he’s doing all the coaching, all the instructing, designing most of the drills and they’re all designed to keep possession and play in a way that players want to play. They’re all different, they all have different traits. I actually signed when Rafa Benitez was the manager, and assumed I’d be working for him and was looking forward to that, but a lot changed in the two and a half years I was there.
D.G: There was no doubt the players were behind Kenny but when Brendan Rodgers came in the fans thought that would bring about an advancement in the way things were done tactically. Has that been the case?
D.B: Yes and no. The analysis of the games was very good under Kenny, Steve and Kevin Kean. They really did spend a lot of time studying videos of upcoming games and opponents and like I said before, Clarkey knew everything about every team. Furthermore, what people don’t realise about Kenny is that he’s watched more football than 98% of people on the planet. I’ll never forget him coming to me once and saying ‘gee that young Jeremy Brockie from the Newcastle Jets (an A-League club) he can play can’t he.’ And I remember thinking how would he know about Jeremy Brockie in Newcastle from Australia, but he was watching the A-League highlights show. So, while he hadn’t coached in a few years he was still watching every player and knew all their strengths and weaknesses. Kenny, Steve and Kevin certainly knew all the players and knew how he wanted the team to play to combat each team. Brendan and his coaching team also scout opposition thoroughly but I guess it’s no secret that Brendan has more of a set style of play regardless of the opposition, he has such belief in his methods and the team that his style will win out in the end and more often than not it has in the past and probably will in the future, so they do approach things differently I guess.
D.G – Your main job was to work the players, we always hear about Premier League players being pampered and overpaid. Is that an unfair perception?
D.B: Absolutely. It always makes me chuckle when I hear that. Take Luis Suarez for example, he’s had something like 10 days off in the time he’s been at Liverpool. That’s it in two years. I’m sure most people say that if they played for Liverpool they’d never take a day off and that may be true but to play at that level, at that intensity for all but 10 days over two years is just phenomenal. If you liken it to a band, say Coldplay who might sell out 50 concerts a year in front of 15,000 people and earn millions of dollars, these players – Suarez, Gerrard, and the rest play three times a week in front of up to 50,000 people, it puts things into a little bit of perspective in terms of how much money they earn. They earn every cent of it. Their work rate, be it rain, hail or shine is outstanding every day for Liverpool and then for their countries. There’s probably a billion people in the world who want to be them so they have to train at an intensity otherwise they get shafted to a lower club. They work extremely hard for it and I say good luck to them.
D.G – You speak about Luis Suarez in such glowing terms can you wind your mind back to the day he joined the club and the impact he made on you and the rest of the squad.
D.B: I recall a five-a-side game in the early days where I had to join in because one of the teams was short and I remember him kicking the crap out of me a couple of times and not even bothering to help me up, he just kept on playing. I was stunned obviously, but then at the end of the game he put his arm around me and in his poor English at the time, he said ‘listen when you’re on the park you’re a player when you’re off the park, you get my respect.’ And I just thought that was fantastic. I also remember his first training session with the team, and Jamie Carragher walking off the field saying ‘I love him already’ – just because of his work rate his commitment to doing everything at such a high intensity. That doesn’t just change be it a two on two game or a gym session. His intensity is just incredible.
D.G – Who are the other star trainers at Liverpool?
D.B: It depends how you define training, someone like Stevie is always in the gym always doing a bit extra, he’ll do whatever you tell him and he doesn’t need too because he’s won and achieved so much but his desire for the club to do well is just extraordinary. My favourite player at my time though was Maxi Rodriguez because when it came to the running, to say he was average was a compliment. He’d always be last with a smile on his face. But when it came to a five-a-side game he just shone. We used to count the amount of times Maxi lost the ball in a session and more often than not he wouldn’t get over five. I used to love watching him play, he always had a smile on his face, never complained, never got injured, he has such a bubbly personality and whenever he played we seemed to win. And then there’s someone like Lucas who gets to the training ground before everybody else and leaves after everybody else. I was lucky enough to go to Gremio with him and help out with the last part of his knee rehabilitation and it was the same there, he’d be there early in the morning and only leave after six at night.
D.G – And what about the players, and I’ll phrase this politely, had the biggest discrepancy between their training form and form on the pitch?
D.B – There really wasn’t too many. Maxi was a fine trainer when the ball was at his feet, when it wasn’t he went through the motions a bit. Big Soto (Sotorias Kyrgiakos) was another who did that, he’d suddenly forget English when you had to do some running or gym work but he understood it perfectly when you told him he had the day off tomorrow. He was a character.
D.G – Ok, lets get onto some queries on individual players. Can Steven Gerrard play two games in a week?
D.B – Yeh, absolutely. He’s showing that this year. There’s no doubt after getting to a certain age and a certain tally of games you have to manage yourself and he’s had some injury history but his workrate is outstanding at training so there’s no doubt he can play two games a week for some time yet.
D.G – Is Daniel Agger’s body as brittle as it seems?
D.B – When you see Daniel Agger train, he trains like he plays. He trains with absolute commitment to the tackle and the contest and if you do that often enough you’re probably going to get hurt. Our only way of getting Daniel to stop hurting himself is to take him out of training. He just trains incredibly hard and it’s the same when he goes to Denmark, they’re notoriously hard trainers so he doesn’t get too much of a break, Daniel.
D.G – Lucas, can he get back to his best after doing his knee?
D.B: For sure. He was very close to that before he had the unfortunate tendon injury, so I have no doubt about that, his attention to detail is second to none.
D.G – And someone you no doubt got to know very well is your countryman Brad Jones. He’s come in and kept a clean sheet against Reading and is putting pressure on Pepe Reina. After what he’s been through you must be enjoying watching him flourish this season..
D.B: Absolutely, I stayed up to watch Jonesy the other night and it was great to see him do so well. He’s been through more than anyone should ever have to go through in their lifetime and to come out the other end is just fantastic to see. His training form in the last year was the best I’ve seen in the six years I’ve worked with him (including Australian national team).
D.G – Darren, we don’t often hear stories of the appreciation players show for the backroom staff at clubs but I believe the two biggest stars at Liverpool during your time there went out of their way to thank you for working with them..
D.B: Yeh, Stevie was really good when I left, he got the boys to sign a shirt and he personalized a couple of things for me which was really nice of him, he certainly didn’t have to do that. And Fernando Torres of course played his first game for Chelsea against us only a few days after signing for them and he came into the change rooms after the game and gave me a signed Liverpool number nine jersey which again was really nice and something he didn’t have to do. Those boys have reached the top of the game not only because of their talent and work rate but because of their character. Guys with poor character don’t often make it to the top because when the going gets tough, they’re found wanting. So that wasn’t a surprise but a really nice touch. And in the dressing room after my final game a number of the boys gave me their shirts, which again meant a lot and showed they appreciate the work you put in.