The Modern Footballer: Sportsman or Specimen?

The footballers that we watch from the terraces or on the television today are nothing like the players of as little as ten years ago. Today you have highly-tuned athletes that spend hours after games warming down and in ice baths, when the “old school” footballers used to unwind with a few beers in a team bath after the game before hitting the town for a few more!

There is no way that the likes of Paul Gascoigne and George Best – arguably two of the greatest ever British footballers – would have been allowed to train the way they did; and have the lifestyles they did, because there is so much emphasis placed on being such a physically strong all-round athlete. Players today like Cristiano Ronaldo are lean and pure muscle and rather than relaxing with a beer or two, it’s home for water and sleep before a warm-down the next day.

When they pick up injuries, there is no longer the “we’ll give it six weeks to heal” theory of old, instead it’s straight into something out of a science lab. Let’s look at an example… when David Beckham broke his metatarsal before the World Cup, he would normally have been ruled out of action for months. However, he went into a hyperbaric chamber, which uses 100% oxygen at elevated pressures to help speed up the heeling process. This helped the injury heal and Beckham was subsequently able to take part in the latter stages of the tournament.

You’ve then got to take one look at the equipment they use and wear. Even cricketers are now more muscular and physically fit than ever before, and they’re using lighter bats rather than turning to the heavy ones to help clear the ropes. Footballers are wearing lighter boots with studs or ‘blades’ that give them only as much grip as they need to help them to be quicker across the pitch and subsequently fly past opposition defenders and rifle the ball into the net.

Their clothing is also changing, with base layers just one example of how the clothing has been adapted. These shirts, shorts and even socks that go underneath kit is viewed by many as just a “fashion thing” when in actual fact they’re designed scientifically to help improve performance. When the weather is cold, the garments can help keep the muscles warm and are able to reduce the risk of muscular injuries from occurring; and when it is hot they’re worn to help bring sweat to the surface of the skin to keep the players cool. If you don’t know too much about base layers, take a look at to find out how the socks can help reduce fatigue and injuries to the lower leg.

The reason for the players becoming more like specimens from a science lab than your traditional sportsmen like Gazza and George Best – natural talents who turned up to training, went home again, turned up to games, wowed the crowd and headed out into town – is because of developments in both the game itself, and sports science. There are even University degrees in sports science and clubs are employing these highly educated people to help improve the fitness of their stars and develop individual training programmes to help them reach their optimum level in terms of fitness and performance.

Matt Rawlings is a UK-based sports fan, playing football and cricket and enjoying motorcycle racing

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