Sunderland coach reveals the brutal reality of working at crisis club Bolton Wanderers
Nick Allamby was the final addition to Phil Parkinson’s backroom team but that certainly is not a reflection of his importance.
The physical performance coach will be central in trying to realise the new manager’s vision for an athletic team capable of pressing high and playing at a tempo that can excite supporters.
Allamby was at Bradford City when Parkinson arrived there, quickly impressing the now Sunderland boss with his work in assessing every aspect of a player’s physical performance.
The role is all-encompassing.
“It’s just everything that affects how a person or a player will perform on a Saturday comes under my remit,” he explains.
“That could be such things as travel arrangement, which is even more important at a club like this where everything tends to be further away, getting all the details right.
“Supporting the coaches, what the players do over the course of a week so they can be ready for a Saturday over the course of what is a long season.
“It’s a highly demanding league and it’s my job to help with that.
“Everything they do, both on and off the field, has a bearing on what happens on a Saturday.
“It’s my role to help the coaches to understand how that is, they might look at things from a football angle and I might be able to bring another couple of angles on that.
“We’ve got a good staff here already, the whole support team of medical staff, coaching staff, sport science staff, the chefs, it all has a bearing on what happens on a Saturday.
“So one of my roles is that everyone is operating as efficiently as possible.”
He also will be key in devising training schedules and plans with the more traditional football staff at the club.
It’s a relationship of mutual trust and a reflection of Parkinson’s ‘holistic’ approach to preparation.
“He’s a big believer in what we do, that’s the basis of [our relationship],” he explains.
“You can have all the support staff you want, but if the manager doesn’t believe in what you do then you cannot do your job.
“I’ve been in positions where I’ve been with managers that put less emphasis on what we do, and that affects what you can and can’t do.
“He trusts in what we do.
“I think that, you once had your fitness coaches or your sports science team, and it would be ‘we’re doing this with the football and then you do your bit’.
“It was very much two separate camps but now it’s much more integrated so you work as a team.
“What Phil does is allow to make it a much more holistic regime, if you like.”
As Allamby explains, players are as much athletes as footballers in the modern era, the game scientifically proven to be quicker and more demanding physically.
It’s particularly key for Parkinson, who has stressed the need for high work-rate and athleticism wherever he has managed.
A number of areas at the club have been identified as needing rebuilding and strengthening and Parkinson quickly identified this as one.
Allamby will work closely with the existing staff, boosting expertise in a department Parkinson believes to be key.
“It comes down to what you do on the training field and unfortunately he’s not had much time to do that,” Allamby says.
“That’s part of this league, I suppose, when you’re Saturday-Tuesday, Saturday-Tuesday.
“But that’s part of how I help support them. It’s not just about play, recover, are there certain other things we can do?
“It’s just making sure that the balance between training and recovery is right.
“Then you have to make sure the players buy into what you want to do.
“It’s a 24-hour job for the players.
“He has a demanding of way of playing that has a high physical output and high physical requirements.
“There are demands on the players with the physical parameters that they are expected to hit.
“I haven’t had a chance to fully ascertain where these lads are in terms of whether they can physically do it, but I know quite a few of these players in terms of having been around this league and the one above in the last few years, so there is definitely a core of players that can do that.
“But it comes down to that, the manager demands that they have to cover certain physical parameters in a game to make what he wants to do achievable.”
Parkinson and his team have arrived at a club under pressure to deliver promotion.
It’s the next stage in a varied career for the performance coach, who initally established his reputation at Middlesbrough, with current England boss Gareth Southgate someone he worked with closely.
Like Parkinson, Southgate had established the importance of that ‘holistic’ approach to coaching and physical preparation.
Without question, the toughest spell of Allamby’s career to date came during Bolton’s fractious season last year, the backroom staff tasked with trying to motivate and prepare a group of players unpaid and with significant doubts over their future.
“It was the most demanding year I’ve had,” Allamby says.
“But like any challenging situation, it teaches you lessons.
“The way I looked at it, and you could have really gone off the rails with it because it was a real tester, but it was, right, I’ve got a group of players here that I still have to prepare for a game.
“I have to be as professional as I can, I still have to try and get them to do things that they might not want to do.
“So you have to get round these problems and the main one is, how do you get them to work when they’re not getting paid?
“Credit to the players there because you’re relying on their professionalism, and I always thought that if I let my standards drop, then it’s not a good example to them,” he adds.
“So you say, ‘I’m not getting paid either, we have to choices, rap it in or carry on. I want to carry on, do you?’
“Every hardship teaches you lessons and this is rightly a very demanding club.
“But not as demanding as going to work for four months with no money, it gets to the point where you’re thinking, I’ve got a big family and have always stayed in this area [North East], and you’re thinking, ‘how am I going to fill that car up again?’
“We had three years at Bolton and the first two there were brilliant.
“Even though the first year in the Championship was a struggle, we didn’t really have the squad to cope but we found a way to stay up.
“The third year was a nightmare.
“The training ground was sold, so we were in an environment where the training pitches were fantastic but we were in portacabins made for academy kids, so I couldn’t get anyone to lift a weight above their head because they were too tall!
“But we found a way of doing it.
“You come in here and these facilities, it’s not that I’m not used to it because I worked for a long time at Middlesbrough, but yeah, there’s nothing to complain about here, put it that way.”
Sunderland’s pause from league action will give Parkinson the time to begin implementing more of his ideas and Allamby will central to that.
He is quickly getting up to speed with the data, assessing the squad and where they are at, and what needs to change if the Black Cats boss is to be a success.
As Parkinson himself has said, that edge will be key if his time on Wearside is to be a success.