My name’s Des Ryan and I’m the head of sports medicine and athletic development at the Arsenal Academy.
Hector and I started within a similar timeframe. Hector was a 16-year-old who had just moved over from Barcelona and I was just starting out in my position. A lot of my sports science and medicine colleagues started at the same time, and we could all see that Hector was a player with huge ability.
He was a high-level player from the word go, and we knew we could help the progress of his natural talent with the benefits of sports medicine and athletic development, particularly in the area of movement, skills and strength.
We used programmes based around functional competence, mobility stability, flexibility and running technique. We knew his natural talent could help him develop even further in the areas of speed repeatability and top-end speed, and Hector was a player who applied himself to this. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that it’s Hector who’s got himself to where he is with the commitment that he puts into the training programmes, we just provided the care, the challenge and the support.
I remember that we would conduct speed tests - we still do - and also filmed him to assess his running technique. It was clear from the early videos that there was potential there. You could see energy leaks side to side when Hector was running, so if we could tidy that up and show him different exercises, we knew we could make him even faster.
Once we’d reviewed the videos, we worked on increasing his strength so that Hector could exert more force in a practical way. It took time and commitment, but Hector is a player that does the work to the nth degree because he applies himself so well.
Initially we worked with him on his flexibility because if there are particular joints that are tight and less mobile, there are exercises that we can do to loosen those up. Once he’d done those exercises, it increased his stride so he was able to get from point A to point B much faster. Then he did a lot of work with our physios and conditioners in the areas of mobility and stability, before gradually easing into strength to develop his power.
Let me be clear that this was an evolution not a revolution because he was already very fast! He was already very talented but we’re very proud of him for what he’s achieved through his hard work, and he’s now become one of the fastest players in the fastest league in the world.
There was already a huge amount of desire and commitment along with the raw talent within Hector, and these attributes were vital in us being able to help him along the way. Obviously before he came to our academy, he worked with coaches in Spain, and now the coaches working with him in our first team have the same philosophy as ourselves. Darren, Shad and Barry are all continuing the fine work that Hector started at this club, but it’s Hector’s journey and he applies himself brilliantly to his development.
While his running technique was always a case of just fine tuning, the most work that we had to do with Hector involved his strength. Then there were slight additions in terms of technique and a slight releasing of tight areas, but with the two combined you can get some good results, which you can see from the videos of Hector running six years ago and Hector running now.
When you compare the footage, you can see it’s all about the lack of energy leaks and the pin of strength in his torso that he’s worked on with many people over the years here at the club. Less rotation in the shoulders going left to right, that’s been aligned and has pushed in straight forward.
His knees were going slightly in with his running technique, which was leaking energy, but now they’re much more aligned. That’s wonderful to watch and he’s a role model to all the other academy players for what you can achieve if you’re disciplined, have humility and are professional.
It also helped that he showed a keen interest in the data. He wouldn’t have worked extensively with myself because I’m more of a manager of the department, but he struck up some good relationships with his conditioners in the past: Mark, Jerry and Sam, who’s with the under-23s this year.
They had detailed chats, strong relationships and he also had a big contribution into how he could develop because he owns his programme. He’s very independent and driven, so he always had an interest in the testing and the training sessions.
He’s exactly the type of player we like to have here and one I can see coming back even better, because he now has a break from the congested fixture schedule. It’s been so busy for him, so one of the rare things he gets to experience now is the time to develop even more in the gym. With Darren, Shad and Barry looking after him, and all the physios in the first team, I can see him coming back at an even higher level.
Obviously that will come with time once he’s back playing, but we have to remember that players reach their peak at 27 or 28 - that can vary with individuals - but Hector will have no problem rising to the challenge.
There are three attributes that we focus on developing in academy players that are very strong in Hector: respect, humility and discipline. He’s got the respect of everyone around them and returns that respect. He will get the best out of the people around him and the people around him will get the best out of him. He’s so disciplined that he will do everything he can to make sure he returns at an even higher level.
He is the person we want the younger players to strive to be. As well as a top professional footballer, he is a top person. We want those attributes in the young players in the academy. The respect, the humility and the discipline - and he is a great role model and person to look up to for the young academy players.
After all, when Hector and I arrived, we had a temporary building outside which would give us the platform to develop, to train hard and encourage athletic development. That still works but because we’ve seen the fruits of it, the club has supported us very well and now we’ve got the top athletic development centre in the UK and Ireland, without a doubt.
I’ve visited many throughout the country and this is the best around, but it’s up to us and it’s up to the players to get the most out of it. We need to be caring but we also need to be challenging. In caring we’re giving them the best facilities around and giving top-level expertise to help the player, but we must challenge the player in these facilities to help them be the best they can be. We have everything we need to help us develop them, and get Hector back to his best as soon as possible.
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