Tottenham's Spanish manager Juande Ramos has offered a startling insight into Tottenham's revival under him by suggesting that the squad he inherited from Martin Jol last October was seriously overweight and had some very bad eating habits.
As he prepared his team for their game at Slavia Prague in the Uefa Cup tonight, Ramos and his management team revealed that the squad was 100 kilos overweight when they first arrived. Ramos and fitness coach, Marcos Alvarez, joined from Seville and one of the first things they noticed was how poorly their new players compared to the super-fit professionals they had left behind in Spain.
"When we arrived we realised straight away that the team was carrying excess baggage," Alvarez said. "I made a very simple comparison with the Seville team that we had been working with and, taking into account the size of the players, the team was basically 100 kilos over.
"So I immediately talked to Tottenham and we set the wheels in motion to change things. They have now lost between 40 and 50 kilos. Now getting the rest off is the most difficult part but we have also turned a lot of fat into muscle."
Ramos, Alvarez and Antonio Escribano, who Ramos brought in as the club's nutritionist, knew they had to change eating habits at White Hart Lane after first setting eyes on the typical first-team buffet.
Alvarez told Spanish radio station La Cadena SER: "The truth is, the first buffet I saw, I took photographs of it because it was very interesting. Lots of sauces, a lot of cakes, chocolate muffins, a box full of sweets. So we tried to put things right."
Ramos added: "At the start they complained because we were taking away the things they liked. But gradually they have understood that we have done it so they can improve, and as the results have improved they have realised that it is necessary. They have all lost weight, some drastically. But they have seen how their performances have improved and the team has moved up the League and they have accepted it."
The claims amount to a damning attack on the regime of Ramos's predecessor, Martin Jol, who was sacked in October. According to a source, the Dutchman believes that his record stands for itself – with Spurs having played 59 games last season and finishing strongly to secure fifth place in the Premier League. "There are different ways to condition players and just look at how they have peaked in the past. Maybe the question that should be asked at Spurs right now is just how many players are getting injured," a source said.
The source also suggested that Ramos and his team should be questioning the role of Spurs' sporting director Damien Comolli who, it is claimed, had greater control of the club's backroom staff and the nutrition provided than Jol. "If you go into a club the first thing you say is that either the players are not good enough or not fit enough. It's a cheap shot," the source said. "Maybe we should just see in what condition the players are come the end of the season and how they finish."
Spurs, who were in the bottom three of the table when Ramos joined, are now 11th and play Chelsea in the Carling Cup final next weekend. Ramos stressed that turning flab into muscle had been as important as overall weight loss. "It's not just a case of losing weight; if you can convert the fat into muscle then that can be a good thing too," he said.
One player who has benefited from the new regime is midfielder Tom Huddlestone. "Most of the food we are told to eat now is dry and we are told not to have too much sugar," he said recently. "I miss ketchup with my chicken. But the main thing with me has been trying to stick to water instead of fruit juices which have a lot of sugar in them. I've lost a bit of weight but I'm not really concerned with that. I'm more focused on my fitness and being able to last 90 minutes, running more than I was before."
From beans to broccoli: the culinary revolution shaping football
The Tottenham manager is not alone in wanting to change eating habits, writes Simon Turnbull
It is not quite true to say that the 'v' word has become only a recent addition to the footballer's lexicon. While sitting at a hotel dining room with his Nottingham Forest team on the eve of one particular away match, Brian Clough saw to it that himself and his players were given a good serving of meat and was then asked by the waiter: "What about the vegetables?"
The immortal reply: "Oh, they'll have the same as me."
It is only in relatively recent times, though, that vegetables other than the baked bean in tomato sauce have crept on to the professional footballer's menu.
Indeed, when Newcastle United were managed by Kevin Keegan in the Premier League last time round, the team bus would routinely make the detour off the A1 to pick up a bulk order of fish suppers from the Wetherby Whaler. That, admittedly, was a ritual carried out post-match and on the road, but it was a measure of changed times that the Newcastle United to which Keegan returned last month happened to have a dietician employed as part of Sam Allardyce's backroom army. Damien Duff, by all accounts, was not a happy soul when he was told to cut out all potatoes and pasta.
It has been no coincidence that the changing of the menu has coincided with a changing of coaching influences from a domestic to a foreign flavour.
Arsène Wenger might as well have arrived with a chef's hat together with his professorial air when he breezed into Highbury 12 years ago. Ian Wright and others did not take kindly to the staple diet of steak and chips being swapped for grilled broccoli, though that changed when the dreaded green stuff proved to be part of a potent, all-embracing recipe for success.
Wenger might hail from one of the world's great gastronomic countries but it was the two years he spent in Japan coaching Grampus 8 that shaped his views on the importance of refuelling with the right ingredients.
"It was the best diet I ever had," the Arsenal manager reflected. "The whole way of life there is linked to health. Their diet is basically boiled vegetables, fish and rice. No fat, no sugar. You notice when you live there that there are no fat people. I think in England you eat too much sugar and meat and not enough vegetables."
Unsurprisingly, there has been an absence of players of a Mickey Quinn or John Robertson shape in Wenger's Arsenal teams. Come to think of it, the "Who ate all the pies?" chant has become somewhat absent from the song-sheet at Premier League grounds in recent years.
"Who ate all the sushi?" does not quite have the same pastry-encrusted ring to it.
It was perhaps another sign of changed times that John Hartson hung up his boots last week with the accompanying lament: "I've been fighting my weight for 12 years. I can't have a burger without putting on half a stone."
Junk food might be long gone from the regulation menu but it has not entirely been driven underground. As Cesc Fabregas confessed last autumn (presumably when his manager was turning a deaf ear): "Sometimes on a day off I go to the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop. When we play at home, I go there after the game and it's like a doughnut party. Everyone is eating doughnuts inside their cars." Ah, the joy of Cesc, Homer Simpson-style.
Not that the partaking of such treats has always been a post-match ritual. In his autobiography Full Time, Tony Cascarino tells the gut-wrenching story of how he arrived at Gillingham Station at 1.05pm one Saturday feeling a little peckish and under the impression that he would not even be on bench duty for the Gills come the 3pm start. After treating himself to a double Wimpy and chips and a knickerbocker glory, he turned up at Priestfield Stadium to find his name on the team sheet as a substitute.
At 3.15pm the future Republic of Ireland international was making his home debut. "I tried to convince myself that the congealed mass of beef and cream and fried potatoes in my gut would soon work its way down," Cascarino recalled, "but my stomach was turning like an overloaded spin dryer."
JAN MOLBY - Liverpool's celebrated half Danish-half Scouse midfielder who made over 200 appearances for the Reds in the late Eighties and early Nineties bossed the midfield like he must have bossed the canteen queue.
FATTY FOULKES - William Henry "Fatty" Foulkes was as a goalkeeper for Sheffield United and Chelsea and won a single international cap for England in 1897 against Wales. He was renowned for his chunky proportions and according to some sources weighed up to 24 stone by the end of his career.
MICKY QUINN - Michael "Micky" Quinn, was as intimidating as strikers come because of his above average size. He played for Coventry and Newcastle among other English league clubs. His 2003 autobiography entitled Who Ate All the Pies says it all really.
ANDY REID - Anyone who watched Sunderland play Wigan on Saturday will have a noticed a chunky little fella come on and set up the home side's second goal. Great pass, great belly on the former Spurs player.