Mick's Manchester United Career
Mick has occupied several roles during his lengthy coaching career, but none have been as high-profile as his 11-and-a-half year stint as Manchester United’s first power development coach.
Less than a year after United had clinched their unparalleled and seemingly impossible Treble success of 1998/99, Mick was charged with maintaining the power and fitness of the world’s greatest football team. Importantly, he wasn’t the first Clegg on United’s books, and it was through his family’s existing links with the club that the job opportunity arose.
Long before he was working with superstar footballers in the salubrious surroundings of United’s Carrington training facility, Mick’s coaching career began in altogether lower-key circumstances. The motivation was simple: vanity.
“In my teens, I was in a band and we had some photographs taken," he recalls. “My arms were skinnier than the strings on my guitar! That made me go to the gym, and within three months people were asking me how I had filled out so much.” Mick’s natural affinity for both training and subsequently sharing the tips he had picked up quickly led to a coaching role at the gym. Weightlifting and boxing became his main pursuits and by the age of 27 he would be owner of his own fitness facility: The Olympic Sports Gym in Ashton-Under-Lyne
It was in Olympic that Mick’s trail to United began taking sizeable steps forward. Two of his sons, Michael and Steven, were brought up around the gym and being immersed in their father’s weightlifting background proved hugely beneficial when they both started showing an interest in football.
“They weren't the most skilful but they were very powerful, strong lads," says Mick. "They were both small full-backs so they needed that extra strength that we developed". While Mick's other two sons - Mark and Shaun - were already making their own names as national/international weight-lifting champions, Michael and Steven were both scouted by United and, despite their small stature, made it into the club’s famous youth setup.
Having helped produce two of the finest physical specimens in United’s youth ranks, Mick was approached by club physio Rob Swire with a view to an occasional role working with the club’s Academy players. Clegg’s career changed dramatically when, shortly after starting his role, Swire introduced him to club captain Roy Keane, who was battling back from injury and was integral to the first team’s chances of success.
Mick managed Roy's rehabilitation, introducing boxing and weight training to the Irishman’s regime, and the sight of the skipper partaking in these hitherto foreign practices prompted the rest of the squad to join the sessions. Steve McClaren – then assistant manager – noticed Clegg's knack for getting the best out of players and offered him a part-time contract, which soon became permanent and, within long, Mick was ensuring the optimal physical development and recovery programmes of every player on United's books, in every age band.
After observing training demonstrations with key first team players, United’s management team, headed by Sir Alex Ferguson, requested a two hour presentation on how the whole squad’s power, speed and fitness could be improved. This initiated the implementation of one of the earliest advanced strength and conditioning programs in the Premier League and directly overlapped a ten year golden period in the club’s success.
While Mick’s methods were revolutionising the way United’s players trained, he was undergoing just as rapid an evolution in his own career, being forced to meet the high standards demanded at the highest level. This included in-depth psychological exposure to players, becoming a confidante to many squad members, and continual assessment of a wide range of the latest training technologies and methods. Clegg integrated the best of these to create advanced training systems, including a Cognitive-Reactive Training Zone at Carrington.
Mick's central coaching responsibility at United was the development and rehabilitation of some of the biggest players in the world of football, past and present, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Roy Keane, Wayne Rooney and scores more top level international stars.
Towards the end of his career at United, Mick’s role shifted focus as part of a new club initiative. In September 2010, United initiated a drive to develop higher standards of home grown players in the Academy and to improve transition rates into the Reserves and First Team. Mick's central coaching responsibility shifted to the youth setup and he was given the role of taking charge of the total fitness and development of over 120 youngsters with the aim of drastically increasing the club’s player value to player purchase ratio.
Though Mick enjoyed working with the young talents, raising their self-awareness and educating them in the importance of the gym within their own careers, the demands of running Olympic as well as his increasing exploration into cognitive training in sport prompted him to leave United and create his Sports Performance Innovation lab at the end of the 2010/2011 season.
“I was an amazing privilege,” says Mick. “Working at United provided me with a platform where the demands were so high, that I thrived as a coach. I like to think I made a difference in the careers of some of the great players I worked with, but I know for a fact that they made a difference to mine. It was an absolute pleasure to work at the club, and it provided one of the most exhilarating chapters of my professional life.”
What Players said about Mick
"I shall be doing weights and build up my stamina and push on next year.
I am filling out slowly but surely. Our weights man, Mick Clegg says my physique may not look that strong but to play against me is a different story and a few of the players have said that." Darren Fletcher
"When there was football on the telly, it was horrible to watch.
I just wanted to be back playing. The fitness coach at United [Mike Clegg], who I was working with every day, was pushing me hard. He wanted to get the best out of me. I'm grateful for that" Wayne Rooney
Mick talks about some of the football greats he worked with at the club
“Roy was the first major elite athlete I trained with. I had only recently joined the club when I was asked to work with him, and the importance of his availability – which was already plain to me as a United fan – was underlined to me in no uncertain terms. As I arrived in the gym to meet him for the first time, Roy was already there, warmed up and ready to go. I wasn’t ready, though.
“After we’d been introduced, I asked: ‘Roy, do you drink tea?’ He responded: ‘What?’ I repeated the question. ‘Yes, of course I do,’ he said, so I suggested: ‘Let’s leave the training for a while and go up in the canteen for a cup of tea.’
“I needed to get to know this guy. I had seen him on TV, watched him in games and all the rest of it, but although the physio was there with him and he had specific ideas of what he wanted to do with Roy, I really needed to get to know his personality to see how I would need to handle him. Of course, that wasn’t going to happen straight away. It takes time, but the initial meeting with somebody is of absolute importance to lay foundations and then build on them.
“So Roy talked to me for around an hour about his life, what he had been through, what he liked doing and what he didn’t like doing and it gave me a massive opportunity to learn and understand from a bona fide football legend. From then on, once the training actually began, it became very, very easy because I had an understanding of him and he knew a little bit about me as well.
“He knew I was prepared to listen to him, he knew I was prepared to understand what he wanted, and to try and make sure that he got all the bits of training that he thought was necessary for him to be effective on the pitch after injury. He was going to go, from my point of view, from rehab to performance training, so it was very important to listen to him, understand him and then to see if he could use the ideas that I had and whether they would be effective for him.
“After we’d been training together for a while, we had a very positive working relationship. We would push each other – I’ll always remember Roy approaching me in the Carrington gym one day and saying: ‘Mr Clegg, you use me in the gym like I’m a crash test dummy for your development.’ I replied: ‘Roy, you are benefiting from cutting edge revelations, so shut it and do it!” He did.
“It helped that we both shared a love of boxing. Roy would wind me up until I told him to shut up. He encouraged me to have a go at him, he liked to stimulate aggression from everyone around him and that made him successful. He turned amateur boxing techniques into boxing for football, boxing-type training for reactions, speed, balance and power. “After years of working with Roy, I’m in no doubt that he has more levels of grey matter than he was ever renowned for. He is a truly great sportsman.”
“Ryan was unbelievably trainable, always open to new ideas, and as a coach that’s an absolute dream of an athlete to work with. I constantly gave him the opportunity to use lots of different types of training, including Yoga, strength training, specialised balance training and a host of other activities.
Ryan was very shrewd who understood what he needed and if something didn’t challenge him physically or mentally then he deemed it a waste of time, so it was a challenge for me to keep the training varied enough to ensure his full involvement.
“Everybody can see Ryan’s longevity, and you don’t last that long in the same environment without evolving all the time. His open-mindedness and his professionalism allowed him to do that, and he has gone on to become one of football’s genuine all-time greats.
The bonus with Ryan is that he’s an absolutely fantastic guy as well; very sharp, very clever, very funny. An absolute joy to work with and one of the very, very best athletes I’ve ever had the privilege of training.
“There’s really only one player who I can say outdid Ryan Giggs for dedication to become the very best, and that was Cristiano Ronaldo. He took on a new level of total dedication to his training because he wanted to be the best footballer in the world.
“He filled his time with football. His whole life was dedicated to it. He even had his own cook so that he was eating well all the time and he made sure he bought a house with a swimming pool so that he could do more training."
“Some players overdo it. I’ve seen players train themselves into the ground because of insufficient knowledge, but Ronaldo was more intelligent than that. He’d train hard, but he’d listen to the specialists around him, the coaches, the manager, and also other players like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He took their advice in pursuit of personal excellence.
”Ronaldo would also arrive at Carrington early so he could prepare properly. He’d be in the gym with me doing core work, then he’d do activation, then his actual football training. Afterwards, when most had gone home, Cristiano would come back into the gym and do power work for his legs. Then he would go home, eat the right food, swim, sleep, where I’m sure he dreamed about football, and come back in the next morning.
“He did that for five or six years and, knitted together, that made him become the player who was sold for £80million. There’s a theory that you need to put ten thousand hours in before you can become great at something, be it football, painting, playing the guitar, anything. Ronaldo did that – and more. I worked with some truly excellent trainers at United, but none did as much as Ronaldo.”
“I worked with Darren since he was a teenager, and he wasn’t kicking on physically, so I told him to look at Ronaldo’s dedication to his regime and follow that. He came into the gym every morning and after every training session.
If Darren wanted to get the best out of himself, he’d have to match that. So he started on a plan and steadily worked harder and harder, and over 18 to 20 months got it right. “Gym work is a very fine balance – few get it spot on.
Darren learned the secret of striking the balance between what you do on the pitch and what you do in the gym. And he nailed it. He was in the gym every day. Some days I had to say he needed to do more of something; others I had to tell him he’d had enough. It’s a balance that you have to strike, but Darren was absolutely bang on. The only other player I’ve worked with who got it so spot on was Ronaldo.”
“An absolute diamond of a guy, Paul was the living definition of how to get the most out of the least. He was the opposite of Ronaldo in many ways. He’d get ill, he had asthma, his endurance capacity was low, he wasn’t strong, quick or powerful.
I wouldn’t consider him an athlete, but his strength was in his ability to see around him better than any other player.
His cognitive processing was better than any other player, he knew exactly what was going on around him. Whenever we tested reactions among the players, he was always the best.
While at Manchester United as the strength & conditioning coach Mick Clegg found himself working with all the players that came through the club from the top world players to the children just starting out. His training ideas revolutionised the approach and technique of modern fitness methodology at the club.
The time at Manchester United has given him the opportunity to meet and work with some exceptional athletes, leaving their mark on him in various ways through his career there. These are some of the pictures that give an insight into his relationship with some of those amazing people.
Mick Clegg's Manchester United Gallery
including Ronaldo, Giggs, Scholes, Park, Fletcher and Tevez