- Premier League stars are trying to stay fresh during the coronavirus shutdown
- Some players are using virtual reality to simulate the game and keep sharpness
- West Ham’s Michail Antonio has used the technology a number of times recently
- He said the virtual experience helped him improve his awareness on the pitch
- Meanwhile, our reporter Jack Gaughan had a tough time after using the tech
- Playing as Victor Lindelof for Man United, he was left spinning by Kylian Mbappe
- Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
Many top-flight clubs, including leaders Liverpool, have told their squads to stay away from training and are unsure when sessions will resume.
So players are using virtual reality technology developed by Manchester-based firm Rezzil in their own homes.
The device, with a headset, foot and shinpad sensors, is growing a reputation for aiding rehabilitation from injuries at the elite level, and could now help players retain sharpness during isolation.
Sportsmail understands four of the traditional Big Six already have software installed at their training complexes. Drills include rondo — or piggy in the middle — exercises, finishing practices and help with timing of headers. They measure spatial awareness for established players and are aimed at improving technique among those in academies.
West Ham United’s Michail Antonio has undertaken three sessions with the VR set in his front room over the past week as David Moyes’s squad avoid the Rush Green training ground. The software has acted as a ‚top-up‘ for the 29-year-old since August.
‚It’s all about awareness of what is around you,‘ Antonio told Sportsmail. ‚You don’t have all the time in the world on this thing. If you take too long then the ball literally disappears and another comes out to start again.
‚I’m not a footballer known for his awareness on the field. I’m known for my brute strength, power and pace. I’ve noticed that my awareness is starting to improve, knowing where people are coming from. It’s helping.
‚At the moment, you’re seeing boys going out to play five-a-side to keep their touch going. Instead, I can be in my house and continue training.‘
Developers say that the VR offers the same neuroplastic response as a real ball, specifically weighted for each individual.
Players are given a 360-degree view of the pitch and drills focus on the sort of cognitive pressure that would arise during elite matches.
Vincent Kompany is a strategic adviser at Rezzil and Sportsmail understands one injured Premier League player is currently using the gadget to better understand his manager’s tactical philosophy.
First-team matches are clipped up and players dropped into virtual reality to review specific replays through their own eyes as a learning mechanism. It is believed that one EFL manager heavily relies on this for post-match debriefs.
Antonio claimed that VR enabled him to keep up to speed on his touch during two spells out injured this season in a game obsessed with marginal gain culture.
For rehab, it was quality,‘ he adds. ‚When you do your hamstring, it’s getting back up to speed that you struggle with. Using Rezzil before I got back on the pitch keeps your ball technique and brain awareness going until you can get back out.
‚You lose fitness so quickly, you have to keep things topped up. Even if it only gives you a five per cent boost, that’s five per cent more than normal.
‚It feels real. Your brain retrains, your whole body believes it’s kicking something and physically playing football. Your mind is thinking you’re touching a ball — it gives you that sharpness.
‚When big boys get involved, talk about it openly, others will follow. It will take off.‘
How Kylian Mbappe had me spinning gormlessly on Old Trafford turf
On went the headset, sensor shinpads strapped to my jeans, and suddenly I was Victor Lindelof. A panicked Victor Lindelof, 35 yards from his own goal and with Kylian Mbappe bearing down.
The scene was Old Trafford, Manchester United’s home Champions League tie with Paris Saint-Germain.
Rezzil, the developers of virtual reality equipment being operated up and down the football pyramid, had plonked me inside the Sweden international’s body.
This was a front-row seat to the subtle brilliance of Mbappe as he nudged in PSG’s second of the night, darting between me… well, Lindelof, and Eric Bailly to finish Angel di Maria’s cross. It appeared a routine goal — a straight run met the clever cross and David de Gea picked it out of his net.
The clip, only four seconds, instils a new-found respect for what elite defenders encounter. Watching Mbappe’s run unfold through Lindelof’s eyes — the frightening speed of it and the deft shimmy to throw the centre half off his stride that replays did not pick up — showed cased the fine margins of elite sport.
And there I was, turning gormlessly in an empty room to admire it as if stood on the Old Trafford turf. This is the sort of technology that more coaches will rely on for tactical briefings with players, to pick out microscopic positional problems or pinpoint the quirks of opposition pre-match.
Quite a few are using it now, although not many want to talk about it. Maybe that will change, particularly given the likelihood of more players having these installed in their homes in the coming months.
West Ham’s Antonio said that above all else this 360-degree experience — focusing on technique and spatial awareness — is simply fun. and it does feel like a fully immersive interactive game of FIFA, one that consumers will eventually devour.
Antonio also said that giving a competitive edge to what could be considered the more mundane training drills is a positive for players. Scores on accuracy, composure, reaction and adaptability are all stored in the system. Playing for points always matters more.
A colleague heard my overall score was higher than his (I gloated) and demanded another go.
It is not hard to see why some pros and clubs are looking look at this as a way to slightly alter the face of training. You think about the game more forensically. And you come away smiling, even if Mbappe has just scored past you!