ALL the hype and hyperbole that surrounds Zlatan Ibrahimovic can obscure things which are quite astonishing anyway.
The Manchester United striker made his comeback from a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament injury last weekend.
And in true Zlatan style, he declared: “Lions don’t recover like humans.”
His recovery, from leaving the pitch on a stretcher to being back in the team, took 212 days. Which makes me wonder if anyone recovers like Zlatan? Oh, and he’s 36!
I suffered a similar injury four years ago and know how brutal it is, both physically and mentally, to spend month after month in rehab and the gym.
It took me ten months before I made my next professional appearance.
But when you do get back to playing, it makes you appreciate your fitness even more and how to maintain it.
As a striker you’re at the sharp end of physical contact, so doing everything right on and off the pitch is essential — even more so as you get older.
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It’s important to get the balance right and even lions like Zlatan would agree diet is crucial to maintain fitness and recover after a match.
For a footballer, the maxim of ‘you are what you eat’ couldn’t be more true.
I think of my body as an engine. The better the fuel you fill up with, the longer and more efficiently it will run.
It’s important to get the combination of carbohydrates and protein — especially leading into games — though I also want to enjoy my food so I allow myself a varied diet having most things in moderation.
Food is just one aspect and eating right will have limited benefit unless you factor in other important aspects, such as sleep.
Sleep is absolutely crucial and at Brighton we recently had a presentation from sports sleep coach, Nick Littlehales.
Forgive the pun, but it was a real eye—opener to learn how important rest is in aiding the repair of damaged muscle tissue.
Most clubs also have hot and cold baths after games and even in between training sessions, whether it be an ice bath or contrast bathing involving hot and cold water.
Both have benefits to aid muscle recovery.
I also have a yoga teacher as stretching is often overlooked for more robust activities like training, running or weights.
A few years ago, people were surprised when Ryan Giggs revealed yoga was a key element which allowed him to play into his late thirties.
But more and more footballers are reaping the benefits from it.
The proof of the complete fitness regime is that managers/clubs are no longer writing off players when they reach a certain age. It wasn’t that long ago that when a player turned 30, questions were asked about their ability to compete at the top level.
Clubs didn’t want to invest in lengthy contracts with older players.
How things have changed. Only last summer Jermain Defoe signed a three deal at my former club Bournemouth, at the age of 35, having scored 15 goals in a Sunderland team which was relegated — no mean feat.
The fact that our opponents this weekend re-signed Zlatan at 36, and after an ACL rupture, is further proof of the value of experienced players.
And the medical side of football has also developed so much that even that injury is no longer presumed to be career threatening.
We hear a lot of talk about small margins and the difference they can make in football.
Every little detail can be important and I don’t think it’s just us older pros who can benefit.
If today’s young players choose to participate in these activities, we might just see a whole generation who continue towards their forties.