Pele, his Cosmos teammate and Peruvian midfielder Ramon Mifflin once said, had his eyes shut from Brussels to Tokyo and the 26 hours of flying time it took those days. Bhaichung Bhutia doesn’t remember when but said he once did half that time and he wasn’t travelling. And when football teams still journeyed by train, Bhutia, then 19, bunked-in for most of the two-night journey from Kannur in Kerala to Kolkata, the stopover in Chennai being the longest period when his eyes were wide open.
It is debatable how important a part of Pele’s wellness mantra sleep was — in the foreward to Pele’s autobiography, Cosmos goalie Shep Messing said it was possibly his was of shutting out the rest of the world. About Bhutia though there is no doubt. “I love my sleep,” the India football captain said, with the conviction of someone for whom a shuteye makes life worth it. “Nothing recharges me better. Even after I’m up, I love lazing in bed.”
During the season, Bhutia, who turns 33 years next month, said he is tucked in by 10.30 pm because “I usually leave for training by 7 am.” The day after the match is like Sundays for the rest of us although for footballers, such days often come more than once a week. “I am rarely out of bed before 11 am then.”
Don’t give up on this column thinking sleep is all that there is to keeping a 16-year football career going; one with over a century of international games. There’s more to Bhutia’s fitness regimen than that five-letter word.
Not just shuteye
“Training for a team sport will always be different from that for an individual sport because it involves a whole lot of combination work. You need to know when to stand, when to run, when to hold the ball and when not to. All of this is in relation to what your teammates are thinking, so there’s a lot of cerebral involvement,” Bhutia said.
“A normal session during the season usually lasts two hours, warm-ups and kickabout included. Training with the ball involves shooting and heading drills, working on your control and technique. And at least half-an-hour is devoted to tactical training where the coach explains what he wants and how we should go it. Often that is specific to the team we play next.”
Bhutia believes warming up is as important as training. “I focus on stretching drills the most with a bit of jogging and sprinting. It’s the same for match days and training,” he said.
Importance of pre-season
Barring injuries and the subsequent recovery routine, hitting the gymnasium is a pre-season thing. “The pre-season routine usually lasts a month and that’s when you get off the holiday mode. It isn’t unusual for players to come back two or three kilos heavier and how fit you are during the season depends on how well you have done your pre-seasons,” Bhutia, currently laid up with a calf muscle injury, said.
Most of pre-season is off the ball. “Earlier, we would be made to run 40-50 minutes non-stop but with greater awareness on the part of coaches and clubs, that’s changed. A daily pre-season routine is usually divided into sprinting, brisk walking, jogging sessions, push-ups and abdomen crunches. Working with weights is usually done twice-thrice a week. The focus is on strength training and conditioning.” While training under Bob Houghton’s national team coaching staff, gym sessions are usually held on alternate mornings with technical and tactical training in the evening.
Bhutia said it is important to not completely let go during the off-season. “I try and stick to at least 30 per cent of what I do during the season. That means going to the gym twice or thrice a week and though badminton and basketball are preferred, I play any sport I can. Four or five times a week, I also go swimming. Nothing specific about the number of laps, I am in the pool as long as I want to because exercising in water is always a good thing.”
Food for thought
Momos are a weakness but Bhutia prefers them steamed. “I try to avoid fried and fatty food. My diet usually comprises cereals and juice before training; an early but heavy lunch with rice or pasta, accompanied by either chicken, egg or fish, and dal. I have biscuits and tea in the evening and by 7pm I am usually through with dinner, which is basically similar to what I have for lunch though in smaller portions,” he said.
Johan Cruyff, the Dutch ball wizard, once said football’s a simple game where the challenge really is to keep doing the simple things really well. From what he describes, nothing about Bhutia’s lifestyle seems difficult to emulate. The challenge really is to keep doing it for nearly two decades.