Academy players from Billingham Synthonia FC got the chance to take part in a zoom call with Middlesbrough FC captain George Friend. During the call he talked about his journey in football and what it takes to be a professional footballer.
Having played over 400 games for the following clubs; Exeter City, Wolves, Millwall, Southend Utd, Scunthorpe Utd, Doncaster Rovers & Middlesbrough it was interesting to hear George talk about his journey and give some advice to younger players.
The talk started with George explaining that he played rugby up until he was 16. He also stated that he had wanted to be a rugby player but made the decision to focus on football. However, he didn’t join a club until he was 18. His first club was Exeter City and they were playing conference football.
During his early career he talked about having to make sacrifices. This included the following:
- Travelling a lot
- Staying in when his friends where going out
- Not drinking/socialising
- Making the decision to stop playing rugby
Importance of Education & Learning
While George didn’t go down the football academy route he talked about the importance of players getting an education. This touched upon the importance of the dual career for those players that don’t make it as a professional but also for professionals when they stop playing.
I was pleased I did my A-Levels as it allowed me to progress onto completing a degree.
In addition to a formal education George said he never stops learning about the game. He talked in high regard of Jonathan Woodgate including how much he learns from him and other coaches. He was complimentary of the set up at Synners and advised academy players to listen to Jamie Pollock (Academy Manager)/other coaches.
I never stop learning, there is always something I can learn.
Training & Nutrition
Listening to George it seemed that he works very hard in training and is very competitive. He talked about a winning mindset in training that could be taken into games. Due to lockdown, George has set up a gym in his garage so he can continue a strict training regime at home.
George explained to the academy players the importance of training for your sport in mind. He talked about his S&C programme and how it had developed over the years based on his learning. He kindly agreed to share with the academy players his training plan and he explained the importance of training legs.
I split my leg session up into 3 areas; Strength, Time under Tension & Power.
His nutrition plan had also developed over the years although unlike some of the players he knows he doesn’t have a food diary / count macros. He felt it was important for people to do what works for them. However, he did stress the importance of a cheat day once a week for himself.
George advised players that to develop their technical/tactical side of the game they should be committed to football training, listening to coaches and learning from games.
Importance of Playing Games
When George wasn’t getting games at Wolves he had no hesitation in going out on loan to get games. He went on load to 4 different clubs, including going back to Exeter. George explained that he felt for him to move forward as a player it was important to play football and he felt without those loan spells he wouldn’t have secured a move to Doncaster.
Overcoming injuries can be challenging, including the most recent injury to a quad which has been particularly difficult but George explained he has changed his focus on what he has been able to do to get the best out himself and be ready to play football.
Talking about overcoming challenges during games George talked about how going back to basics and keeping things simple, but still positive can help players overcome sticky spells in games. He talked about while there is time on the clock there is still time to turnaround a bad performance.
Whether during a game or at the end of the game George explained he never ever wanted to feel he could have given more. Yes, there might be something he could learn and take into the next game but it was important for him to have given his all.
I know in games I always give 100%
Talking about an opposition player being on top in a game George stressed the importance of not making things easy for them by backing off. Be positive, tackle hard and be on your game.
Don’t make it easy for a winger
One academy player talked about height being a reason why they had been rejected by a few professional football clubs. George talked about focusing on what a player had control of and obviously height isn’t something anyone can control.
George asked the player to focus on what they can do to get better? Is it something technical or improving their S&C? Whatever they do, George felt it was important for the player not to focus on their height as being a problem and that they could also build on their strengths.
Patrick Roberts at Middlesbrough FC (on loan from Man City) is a naturally gifted player.
Best piece of advice
The best piece of advice George had ever been given was from his grandfather and although about football George relates this to everything he does. This could be playing a game of football, training or taking part in an education programme.
Play every game as if you are at Wembley
One particular mantra that George works to is that of NEVER GIVE UP