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The Day Kieran Trippier Met the Fitness Coach Who Strikes Terror Into Players

The Day Kieran Trippier Met the Fitness Coach Who Strikes Terror Into Players

Monday, 22 July, 2019 - 05:30
Mojo Burgos watching Kieran Trippier very closely during Atlético Madrid training. Photograph: Sid Lowe
London - Sid Lowe
Oscar Ortega has a reputation for being a bit of a sadist. Nicknamed El Profe, the teacher, he is part man, part myth, mixing fear, fascination and fondness too, his very name striking terror into footballers’ hearts. Atlético Madrid’s fitness coach, a 61-year-old Uruguayan drill sergeant who spent the morning of the 2016 Champions League final doing laps of San Siro, Ortega likes nothing more than running them until they drop, vomit and pass out – while shouting at them. Or better still, laughing. So, ask Kieran Trippier’s new teammates what awaits him in Spain, and many would smile knowingly and reply, tongue in cheek: El Profe does.

Which might be just what he needs; it’s certainly a little different.

Atlético announced Trippier’s £20m signing at 6pm on Wednesday evening; by 6.10pm he was heading out of the team’s hotel in Los Angeles de San Rafael and off to the training pitch up in the mountains towards Segovia, where the club spend their pre-season boot camps. For the first time in 40 years, they weren’t there last summer, but now they’re back and it’s bigger, and harder, than ever before. Two gyms have been set up in marquees and alongside the pitch where Trippier is taking his first steps as an Atlético player is the Profe Slope, a 50 metre, 30% climb Ortega had built and up which he sends his players. July’s blisters are May’s strength, they like to say.

Trippier’s timing was good: that morning, the last session before he arrived, Diego Costa had to drop out after one sprint up the Profe Slope left him dizzy and disoriented, and he has not had to follow yet. But, beware, it’s there, it will be used and they were quickly on to him. Thursday morning was tough, still felt on Thursday evening: the grin, and the sweat, spoke of the work. There will be no escape, and if Trippier is to improve anywhere, if there is a place that can make him a better defender, it is here. It is what they do.

He knows that. This looks like a different Atlético, undergoing a shift in identity, those old certainties gone with the departing footballers who represented them but some things never change, some qualities are non-negotiable. Take João Felix: presented as “pure art”, then turned into a project to toughen up. And at his presentation at the Metropolitano, squeezed in between Thursday’s double session, Trippier spoke about the importance of Diego Simeone in his decision to join Atlético; he talked of the “ethic, the effort”.

He spoke too about the “family”. And, when it comes to the coaching staff that means a 13-man team led by El Profe and the former goalkeeper, rock singer and assistant coach Germán Burgos. Often seen as old school, this is a hands-on coaching team. Foot in, too. Simeone literally runs through every drill with them. It is a team that has not always had great luck with strikers but repeatedly developed the best defenders.

Nicknamed Mono – the monkey – Burgos is the man who once told José Mourinho he would tear his head off and the man who looked as if he probably could too. Yet he is also a man everyone loves, of warmth, an immense heart. He was talking Trippier through the movements as he was thrown straight into a starting XI of sorts, playing in a 4-4-2 alongside Savic, Felipe and Lodi in the first evening and a 4-3-1-2 with newly signed Mario Hermoso in for Felipe in the second. Three in the back four are new following the departures of Juanfran, Diego Godín and Filipe Luís, with José Giménez likely to play when he returns. The ideals persist, though, as do the traditions: the new man arrived and ran the gauntlet, teammates kicking and slapping him.

On Thursday evening, it was as if Burgos was man-marking Trippier, tracking his every step, talking through the positional exercises and taking up a position on his touchline in the game. Close and within earshot: “Go, go, go; calm, calm, beri gud.” At every turn and with every query Burgos was there. He was grateful for it. Trippier had spoken repeatedly during his presentation of his desire to learn Spanish – “my priority” he called it, something he always wanted to do and now has the excuse for – but it will take time. On occasions, Álvaro Morata approached to explain further.

Trippier has taken the place of Juanfran, departing after eight years. He will compete with Santiago Arias for the right-back slot, but will anticipate being a starter. His inclusion in two consecutive starting XIs underlines that, and the work to integrate him.

A former winger converted to full-back, Juanfran’s profile – and indeed that of Arias and of Nelson Semedo, who they chased – helps challenge the myth that the role Trippier steps into is a purely defensive one. Both Juanfran on the right and Filipe Luís on the left contributed enormously in attack: width came more from them than the midfielders, who tended to be squeezed inside. That will be eventuated if Simeone sticks to the diamond midfield he is preparing here. It is one of the reasons why they have focused on the Englishman – their first since a striker called Drinkwater 90 years ago and only their second ever.

Atletico’s president, Enrique Cerezo, talked about the importance of Trippier’s quality, his ability to deliver telling passes, crosses and dead balls and, while he was reading from a prepared sheet, this is a key element. Trippier will not be expected to defend only, but to play. That was clear in the session: defensively, his position will probably be deeper, with less space behind him, but with the ball they sought him early and high, out on the touchline, the man to provide the final cross.

That’s the part they bought and will work on, providing the structure and position from which he can provide the passes. But it is not the only thing, not their badge of identity during the Simeone years. The effort, the physique, the defending is something they can build, as they have done so many times before. And it all begins with a run up a man-made hill, built to make them sweat.



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