Jeff Schlupp, 23, is a winger and left back for Leicester City, where he’s won Young Player of the Year in each of the last two seasons. This is what it takes to be a utility wide man.
I was always open to playing anywhere really as long as I was in the first team, whereas other players might want to focus on their usual position. It was almost a case of convincing myself that I could actually do it too – it’s quite a big move going from striker to defender. But I’ve always been able to adapt to wherever the manager tells me to play.
If Phil Neville had said he only wanted to play as a full back or a defensive midfielder, his career might have been limited, but he had a great career playing everywhere. That’s another way of looking at it; you’re increasing your chances of getting a game. Which is always a good thing. And it’s good for the manager
to have a player like that.
Not so different
For me, there are a lot of similarities between full back and winger. If you’re an attacking full back you’re more like a winger anyway. You kind of adapt the roles into one. Fitness is a really important attribute for both positions, to be able to get up and down the pitch. If you’re a winger, you’ve got to be a full back at times, too, sprinting back and making recovery runs. Great positional sense is important for both as well.
For a while, we only had one recognised left back at the club in Paul Konchesky, so if he got injured I was brought in to do the job. He was an experienced player to learn from. Paul was a machine, and quite an attacking left back, so I’d have chats with him when I was playing there. When you’re learning from a player like that who’s had a great career at the top, it always helps.
You’ve got to be able to read the game, but a lot of that comes with the experience of playing in the position. And you’ve got to concentrate for 90 minutes, which is a long time. You’ve got to be totally focused because one blip of missed concentration could lead to your team conceding or losing. It’s ruthless.
Know your strengths
You’re not going to find an ultra-defensive full back bombing forward every game just because you’ve told him to. They might not be able to do it physically or have the skill. Likewise, you can’t tell an attacking full back to defend the whole time because the team won’t get much out of him.
We watch clips of the players we’re about to play against, and sometimes you’re watching them just before you’re about to go and warm up for a match. In the week coming up to the game, you study the players that will be lining up opposite you. With my game being pace, I’d see if their right back is quick, what they’re good at, what they’re not so good at.
It gives you a bit of a psychological edge knowing they’re slower. As soon as you get on the pitch, you know you can flash the ball past them.
On Monday morning, we get given clips on an iPad of every time we had a touch or were involved in the game gone by. There might be 60 or 70 clips to watch. There is a big team of sports scientists who prepare that stuff. We wear GPS and heartrate monitors now, so on matchday they can see how far and how fast we’ve run,
how many sprints, stops and decelerations we’ve done.
It even helps with recovery. If you see a player is covering so much ground every game, you might change their training pattern to rest him during the week so that he’s fresh for the next game. Or if a player needs to do a bit of extra work, he can do that after training.
Last season I tore my hamstring; it was quite a bad one, a 90 per cent tear. I was out for three months and had an operation. The rehab bit was mainly glute and hamstring work to help to strengthen. When you’ve been off your feet for a month or two, it’s basically turning the muscles on again because you’ve not used them. You do some BOSU ball work, and get on the bikes too, because you can’t really hurt yourself spinning on a bike.
A long injury is way more frustrating than if you’re fit but not getting in the team. You have to be mentally strong because it takes a lot out of you. You just accept it, and concentrate on getting back as soon as you can.
Shout about it
You have to be good at communicating with your teammates, or you don’t make it – it’s as simple as that. If you’re not talking to each other, you don’t know what’s behind you and you’re by yourself.
It might seem overly aggressive sometimes when someone shouts at you, but you’ve got to make yourself heard over the crowd and it never leads to bad feeling. It stays on the pitch!
I’ve never done anything like putting on my left sock first. I don’t have any superstitions or anything – I don’t get changed until 20 minutes before we go out, though, while other players like to get ready early and have massages. I just hate getting changed too early and then sitting around waiting.
Going for goals
You can play as well as you want as a winger, but if you’re not getting goals or assists, that’s what people talk about. That’s the difference between good wingers and the top wingers.
I’d rather have 20 goals than 20 assists; it’s where the glory is. There’s nothing better than the feeling of scoring a goal.
Schlupp started his career as a striker before moving to the left hand side of the pitch. Other than a nine-game stint at Brentford, he’s been at Leicester throughout his six-year career to date. Here's what his teammate Danny Simpson had to say when he met FS magazine...
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