Mateus Manoel joined the Sporting Kansas City technical staff as a fitness coach in June 2010. He traveled to South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup as a member of the United States Men’s National Team staff and also worked with the Mexico National Team during their 2010 World Cup qualification process. He worked as a fitness coach for D.C. United in 2006 and 2007, and is a performance specialist for Athletes Performance in Los Angeles.
Mateus talked to SportingKC.com about the dynamics of fitness in professional soccer and his experiences as an elite-level trainer in the field.
Can you compare the fitness requirements of soccer to other sports?
Soccer is a multifaceted, physical sport. You have guys that need power, they need endurance, they need agility, they need strength, and they need to recover well. When you compare other sports, like American football and baseball which are very powerful in nature, you take rugby and soccer where you end up running ten or eleven kilometers a game and still have that same explosiveness from the first minute to the ninetieth minute. It is a tough sport to train. As far as physical qualities go, you need everything. Obviously position-specific considerations are going to be important. Forwards and defenders usually need to be more explosive, anaerobic in nature. Midfielders are going to have more endurance, and be able to recover from those sprint bouts. Soccer players have the complete package.
Who is the fittest soccer player you’ve worked with?
Michael Bradley, playing for the U.S. National Team. He is a guy who takes his profession very seriously. He does the side work, the extra work, and he is strong. He can jump and sprint, and he has a hell of an aerobic base.
How big of a role does technology play in your profession?
Technology has influenced our field tremendously in the last 5-10 years. It used to be in the past that the coach would do everything. He was the nutritionist, the physical trainer, a psychologist and he was a soccer coach. Now, the profession is so specialized that technology companies are trying to manufacture anything they can to try and give teams an edge. You talk about things like our heart rate monitoring system, and you can keep an exact track on the training load for all the players and make sure that our recovery protocols are efficient enough to prepare the player for the next match. Things like the Omegawave that the national team and a couple MLS teams actually use, which can give you other parameters that a person cannot tell you. It gives you a definite advantage. The profession has come a long way. I’m happy that we are able to give this to the players, because it is just for their benefit.
You grew up playing soccer in Brazil. You’ve worked with the two biggest national teams in CONCACAF and you’ve worked with MLS teams. What is your perspective on soccer in the US and Major League Soccer?
I think the sport is evolving here big time. If you were to ask me when I was a teenager, playing in Brazil and then coming to this country to finish high school, that was a big change. In Brazil, there is no baseball, no hockey there. Futbol is the one thing you look forward to as a kid. As soon as you finish school you are trying to get outside and play. You are starting to see that here in the U.S. You have kids who have idols. They watch the English Premiership, they watch the Spanish Liga, they are fans of Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The internet has just made it that much more accessible to them in terms of watching videos on YouTube. Now you have kids all over the place with the ball at their feet. I think the sport has taken a great leap and MLS is obviously trying to bring big names over here to try and stimulate that even more. I think it is just going to continue to grow. It takes a culture to support a sport. We can see from this last World Cup where America was just so tuned in to the national team, and the support was awesome. The team could feel it. We as a staff felt it, but the players definitely also felt it and that emotion alone gives it a big leap. I think the sport is just going to keep evolving. The U.S. is already making it to the second round, and perhaps they will start to make it to the quarterfinals with some stability now.
You’ve worked under Sven-Goran Eriksson and Bob Bradley, can you compare the two?
You can’t compare them. They are great coaches, and that is the one similarity. They have different ways of going by and doing things. Sven has been in the business forever. He has worked with so many teams, so many players. He comes in and picks the way he is going to do things based on the culture of the team. I think Bob has some great coaching abilities. He’s a tremendous leader. He is progressing really well. Ultimately, I think both of these guys understand the player-coach relationship very well. You’re a parent, a psychologist. At the end of the day you understand what a player needs to do to clear his mind and play well. In a way they are very similar in how they handle player interactions on a day-to-day basis. In terms of support staff, these guys are very open. They are in-tune to our ideas. They are guys that look for that help whenever they can. It used to be the head coach would take on all the responsibility. Now these guys tap into the resources that are on the training staff. Some of the stuff is a little above their heads, and unless they get a little help they are not going to have the edge to win.
Had you worked with Omar Bravo prior to his arrival in Kansas City? If so, what kind of Designated Player can fans expect this season?
I did work with Omar on the Mexico National Team. Omar is a very experienced player. He is an idol in Mexico and he is idol on the national team in Mexico. He knows how to finish. I expect great things from him.
How many languages do you speak and how has that helped you on the soccer field?
I’m learning my fourth language. I have a wife who is half-French so she’s trying to get me to learn French. It has helped me tremendously though, because soccer is an international sport. Look at our team or even other teams like New York, you have guys from France, from Africa. Knowing multiple languages helps you communicate with players. The game is just so international in nature. It helps to speak a couple of languages.
I can’t imagine you’re one of the more popular members of the technical staff when you’re running them through conditioning drills or working them in the weight room. How do you manage that relationship?
We definitely have a love-hate relationship with these guys. But now you hear about Kansas City being able to handle higher workloads than these other teams, the players know that this is all paying off. It makes me happy that the players put in the work and get the rewards in the end. We are working on our counseling, and making sure that we don’t kill each other at the end of the day.
How important is the fitness aspect of the sport?
I will always say this: fitness is a big part of the game, but it isn’t everything. There is a big physical component, as well as a psychological component and a tactical component. In the end they are just as important as fitness.