Michael Clegg on Manchester United and strength and conditioning

As a lifelong Manchester United fan it was brilliant to speak to someone who played for them during their peak. I wanted to know how Michael’s footballing journey began and his time at Manchester United. I was also interested to learn more about his work as a strength and conditioning coach and his future plans in that field. I began by asking Michael about how his footballing journey started.

“Like any young lad I watched football on television, my dad was a passionate Man United fan and my mum’s family were Man City fans. I was just surrounded in this football world at a young age. I went to taekwondo as a young boy which taught me self-defence, discipline and helped me understand the body. That was a great learning curve. I started playing football for my local team and I was quite good and had good body awareness. My father had a family gym which put me in an environment where people were trying to better themselves physically. I started doing Olympic lifting, I competed at national championships at under 15 and under 16 level. This taught me at a young age that strength and conditioning was important for all sports including football.”

After having developed his footballing ability and become aware of the importance of strength and conditioning. I wanted to know how Michael came to be involved with Manchester United.

“A centre half who was going to sign for the Man United academy got injured and I was told by the scout that if I performed well in matches with Droylsden that I’d get a trial at Man United. When I put that Man United top on it was almost like putting on a Superman suit, I felt energy pushing through my body. I scored a goal in my first match against Blackpool and I was offered a scholarship at United. It was like a dream come true.”

Michael proceeded to offer me more of an insight into his time as a Manchester United player.

“The class of 92 were there and Bryan Robson, Mark Hughes but there was a changing of the guard. It was an amazing team and all you could do was learn and keep your mouth shut. We won the youth cup, even though there were no superstars in our team. It was like winning the World Cup. Sir Alex offered me a one-year contract which I eventually signed and he told me that I would play right back in the reserves. I played for the reserves and signed a two-year contract. I made my debut for the first team against Middlesbrough at the Riverside. I’d never trained with the first team before but I got a call from Brian Kidd to say that I was travelling to Middlesbrough. I walked into the changing room and saw the Clegg shirt hung up. I turned around and Bobby Charlton was there. He told me to out there and enjoy it. I stayed at United until 2002. I was lucky enough to play in the Champions League quarter final against Monaco against players like Thierry Henry and Fabien Barthez. I also played against some great teams domestically against Spurs and Wimbledon. I remember me and Vinnie Jones were at each other’s throats. Looking back it was like a dream.”

“I ultimately found it difficult to break into the first team, you had Gary and Phil Neville there. I sort of knew I was never going to make it but I loved every minute of it.”

Michael retired aged 26 and we discussed how depression is a problem that can befall players when their careers end prematurely.

“Depression amongst footballers wasn’t covered very well in the past, I fell into a negative thought process, thinking that I’d let myself and my family down. The PFA needs to put a lot more work in to deal with mental health. It’s a big change moving back into the real world. I could have carried on but I decided to step away and do something different. I went to the family gym and wanted to get qualified and help other people. Roy Keane asked me to go to Sunderland to be head of strength and conditioning. They were bottom of the league when I joined and then we started this amazing journey and got promoted. Roy eventually left but I stayed and worked with managers like Martin O’Neill, Gus Poyet, Dick Advocaat and Paolo Di Canio. I also got a masters degree in strength and conditioning and did my coaching badges. Then in the summer, I stepped away from Sunderland to pursue other projects.”

The conversation then shifted to Michael’s work as a successful strength and conditioning coach. I asked Michael if he felt like he was always destined to work in strength and conditioning because of his early experience in the gym.

“I would say that was my first passion. Once my dad got the job at Man United it became standard for football clubs to have physical conditioning to prepare players. We were at the front of a new curve in lifting. It was a natural fit. I’m more involved with strength and conditioning than ever. We’ve got an elite gym and we do online videos for companies. I’ve also got involved with corporate wellbeing, I’ve set up a program delivering sports science to children who are 9 or 10. There’s lots of different avenues to get into the world of sport without being an athlete.”

Considering that Michael had this background in strength and conditioning, I asked if that made it easier for him to deal with retirement.

“I think everyone should have an exit strategy. They need to start thinking about doing their coaching badges. People who are playing in League 1 and League 2, their career could end at any moment. Education is so important so that you can get another job.”

Just before we wrapped up the interview Michael told me about his future plans regarding strength and conditioning.

“I’ve written a course called the Soccer and Performance Seminar.  I want to take it around the world and show how football has changed over the last 15 years. Soccer is an intermittent field sport in which there is a constant fluctuation of energy system demands placed on soccer players. but if you look at the data, there’s more explosive sprints because of the work of sports scientists. This is open to all people and coaches who want to apply correct coaching methods. I want people to know more about my passion for soccer/football specific conditioning not just classical strength and conditioning and that’s where the ‘seedofspeed’ philosophy is born – it all stems from the brain; cognition, perceptual contextual awareness! This is our message!”

You can find Michael on Twitter at @seedofspeed1

His website is www.seedofspeed.com

His email address is info@seedofspeed.com

He can also be found on LinkedIn by searching Michael Clegg

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