MARCUS HAHNEMANN was our goalkeeper at Reading in the Premier League. He was not young, he had worked hard to get to the best league in the world. And when he was not happy, everyone knew about it.
Marcus was a big lad, an American ‘keeper, and a very driven man. He was obsessed with his training; having the right gear, all the equipment, the goalmouths and the preparations had to be spot on and there should be no distractions.
The Premier League was new to us all and in the first six months, we wanted to make the best of it, enjoy it and embrace it. And as time went on, we started to make more demands and expect more from the club because of the level we were playing at, and the opponents we were facing every week.
One day in that first season, Marcus was going bananas on the training ground because the balls were not pumped up properly. He was shouting and bellowing that the balls were flat and he started kicking them left, right and centre off the training pitch so they were landing in the car park, over hedges and around the buildings.
Steve Coppell always preferred to avoid confrontation but obviously it is very difficult to ignore a big roaring goalkeeper booting balls around the training ground.
Perhaps because he’d come from America, where he told us training ground standards are perfect in schools and colleges and clubs, he set his own standards very high. Marcus was late to the Premier League and didn’t want to waste a single day. I think when you’ve taken a longer route to get to the top, as many of us had in that Reading team, you take the view that you’ve earned it so you want everything to be perfect.
During that first season, there was so much around the club that was enjoyable. Going into the gym before training was enjoyable and everyone wanted to improve, not least the club. So it was exciting to listen to the plans for the training ground as we all strived to move forward. We all wanted to work in the new weights room when it was ready and play and train on the new pitches. And when the ice baths came in, we were all diving in to use them.
There was a buzz and excitement around the squad, and you felt part of an adventure. And the more that was offered, the more we wanted. It’s like when you pick that Titleist Pro V1 out of the bag on the first tee. You know it is a brand new, top quality ball and it gives you a little extra confidence before you hit it because you know it’s one of the best golf balls. Footballers feel like that about their preparations and training.
I have been to many training grounds around the world and it is no surprise that Real Madrid’s is up there with the very best. It is everything you would expect for one of the game’s biggest clubs, and more.
The Real Madrid players must love going to work. From the moment someone like Cristiano Ronaldo arrives at the training ground, I imagine he’s waited on, hand and foot. His car will be driven away and cleaned if required, he’ll have someone there to put his flip-flops on, hold his protein shakes, have his training gear ready. And he’ll have that care and attention until he goes home for the day.
It has to motivate a player like him to train hard every day because it is soon taken away from you. It is not all about wages and cars and big houses. Being treated like a world class footballer has to drive the players at a club like Real Madrid. Can you imagine working hard throughout your young life to reach that level of the game, and to be looked after and almost pampered every day by one of the greatest clubs in the world? Every one of them had to fight and sweat to get there.
They have all come from a small pitch with two, maybe even just one goal. Some of the Brazilian boys will have played in bare feet as youngsters. Ronaldo comes from a humble background. He wasn’t handed his riches and mega contracts on a plate. He might give the impression he takes it for granted, and it’s a given now, but he must thrive on receiving that five-star treatment.
It is easy to work hard when things are going well, as I found at Reading in that first season. When I look back at how I trained and prepared when I was 23/24 and my career was in jeopardy at Brentford, I know that I gave myself the best chance to succeed and make a career in the game.
Watching Ronaldo last week against Atletico Madrid, I thought of one game, at Old Trafford when our Reading team were holding Manchester United at 1-1, although they had hit the woodwork twice and were pressing for a winner. And then Ronaldo scored two late goals to burn us off. For the second, he took a pass from Ryan Giggs half-way inside the United half, and he ran for 50/60 yards, flew past Graeme Murty and fired the ball past Hahnemann. That was the Ronaldo of old and there were glimpses of that against Atletico. He is still primarily interested in scoring goals for himself, but he seems to have lost a considerable amount of bulk to get back to the days when he ran past defenders for fun.
How a player feels on the pitch when he crosses the white line is so vital and if he has gone on a diet or changed his training routines to lose weight, he might feel it will give him more energy during games. He certainly looks like he has lost a lot of bulk around his shoulders and I am sure it is deliberate.
How do you cope if you have a player like Ronaldo in your team? Although he scored the hat-trick in the Champions League semi-final, the outstanding player against Atletico was Toni Kroos, whose passing was just unbelievable. Right foot, left foot, long diagonal passes, short crisp ones. It was a midfield masterclass.
I don’t know Kroos but I would imagine he is robotic in training and while Ronaldo has his tantrums, makes his demands and expects the Real Madrid world to be centred around him, the German just gets on with his job. It’s the way he plays and I can’t see his training being any different. He is an individual you would expect only to be interested in the team, and the team winning, and is unlikely to be distracted by the rewards outside the game.
All that Kroos will be bothered about is how Ronaldo plays and he knows that, at any moment in a game, he can come good and score a goal.