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Behind the scenes with Real Madrid - their training ground secrets revealed


It is the fine details that separate the great from the good and, with training over for the day at Real Madrid’s Valdebebas training ground,Gareth Bale remains on the pitch to iron out one particular flaw in his game.

Paul Clement, the English coach charged with enticing the extra one per cent from Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez and the rest of Real’s modern-day galacticos, works with the former Tottenham winger for 10 minutes as he attempts to master a technique that has been identified as one of his rare weaknesses.

It is short and simple. Bale knocks the ball to the touchline, sprints and clips the ball to the far post, with Clement encouraging him to focus on delivering the killer ball.

“Gareth is very strong on his left side, but we play him on the right where he cuts inside and he is excellent in that role,” Clement explains. “But he is getting into positions where he is at the byline and needs to be able to stand the ball up better at the far post.

“He is not so strong on that, he realises that and we have spoken about it and come up with a plan.

“He needs to practise it, regular and often, after training for 10 minutes. We talk about the technique, break it down, as how he feels about it and the work on it. You can’t just talk about it, you have to do it and practise it.


“We do lots of things like that with the players. We do our team work, but we know that the players are very compliant here and they want to work at being better, every day.”

Ronaldo appears from the dressing-room door to jokingly goad Bale, but the £85million winger simply grins and continues his extra-curricular session.

“If the players are running in off the training ground, you have a problem and that is a worry,” Clement observes. “But we have never had that problem since I have been here.”

At 43, Clement is living the dream of coaching the world’s best football team on a daily basis, having followed manager Carlo Ancelotti from Chelsea to Madrid via Paris Saint-Germain.

As Ancelotti patrols the training pitch, observing quietly, Clement oversees simultaneous five-a-side games in which the speed and skill of the players involved is breathtaking.

Despite a non-playing background - Clement’s father Dave and brother Neil played at the top level - the Londoner has been hand-picked by Ancelotti to coach alongside Fernando Hierro and Zinedine Zidane at Real during 18 months that has seen the club claim a 10th European Cup and become world champions.


But Clement, a product of working with and under some of the world’s leading coaches rather than the traditional British route of domestic progression, insists that the success-driven intensity of the Real squad is forged by the players on the pitch.

“I haven’t worked with one top player who thinks he is the finished article and believes he doesn’t need to do extra this or that,” Clement said.

“It is actually the ones lower down you have the problem with because they think they are better than they are.

“But people like Cristiano, Gareth, Zlatan (Ibrahimovic) at PSG, the players back at Chelsea - Lampard, Terry, Drogba - they are the ones who are doing extra: practising, practising, practising.

“Cristiano will be out practising virtually every day after training, particularly central free-kicks. He is so good at central free-kicks because he continually practises them.”

Ronaldo’s drive and passion is evident as Clement oversees a five-a-side training game at Valdebebas, at which Telegraph Sport has been given exclusive touchline access.

The former Manchester United forward demands the ball, celebrates like a schoolboy whenever a goal is scored and, after netting the winner at the end of the session, beckons our photographer to take a team photo of his ‘winning team’ of Toni Kroos, Dani Carvajal, Asier Illarramendi and goalkeeper Keylor Navas – a photograph Ronaldo then asks for a copy of via the Real media officer.

Ancelotti and Clement stand behind, laughing at world and European champions celebrating a five-a-side victory as if they have added to the 10 European Cups which adorn the walls of Valdebebas – a purpose-built training complex, overlooking Madrid’s Barajas Airport, which lacks the brashness of similar facilities in the Premier League.

Zidane, one of the club's icons, walks by, embracing the visiting Claude Makelele after coaching the club’s second team, Castilla, as Ronaldo milks the moment.

But the sense of Valdebebas being a finishing school for the very best is embodied by the recently-crowned Ballon d’Or winner, whose exuberant training performance masks the drive which is obvious in the focused expressions of team-mates such as Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos.


“I remember when I worked at Chelsea and there was a kid who used to cheer his goals and I thought, ‘what an idiot, what is he doing? He’s training,'” Clement said.

“But over 10 years later, I see the best player in the world cheering his goals in training, and I think, ‘I’m the idiot.

“People think Cristiano is flash and has an ego, but he is really down to earth. He wants to be the best - he doesn’t think he is the best - but he wants to be and that explains his continual drive to be better all the time.

“He picks up a lot of individual accolades like the Ballon d’Or and top scorer awards, but he actually sees that as his part in helping the team be successful.

“On a similar level, he thinks that the job of defenders is to make sure that they have the most clean sheets.

“He does a lot of the details really well - he has a great knowledge of diet and nutrition and he also really knows how to recover well, whether it be here with the massage and ice baths, or at his home, where he has had those facilities installed in his own house.

“He is really pushing the boundaries by doing that kind of thing. At Valdebebas, before we go out training and you walk through the corridor, you will see him in the gym, doing his exercises to prevent injury and increase his strength.

“And then when you get on the field, whenever there is a competitive exercises, he wants to win and he cheers his goals.”

At some point in the near future, Clement admits he will seek the next challenge in his career of management.

Just as the likes of Jose Mourinho, Brendan Rodgers and Middlesbrough’s Aitor Karanka have emerged from the coaching ranks under illustrious managers to manage on their own, Clement has a similar desire to test himself.

The likes of Newcastle and Brighton have courted him, but after working closely with Ancelotti and also under Mourinho and Guus Hiddink at Chelsea, he insists the knowledge he has gained from those experiences will ensure that he waits for the right opportunity.

Speaking in a room decorated by a mural of Real’s 10 European Cups, lined up alongside each other, Clement accepts that he is working for the elite of the elite, but ambition drives him towards the responsibility of a manager’s job of his own.

“I’m 43 now and it needs to be in my forties,” Clement said. “It could be the next job or the one after, but I see it in the near future.

“At Real, I am learning every day and in a fantastic environment, so I have to get the timing right. But I have worked with some very good managers. I suppose I have had the equivalent of a Harvard education in some respects.

“People might say I haven’t played the game, but I have really studied the game. Even going back to Carlo’s mentor, Arrigo Sacchi, he had no playing background at all, but he was a fantastic student of the game.

“He was here recently and it was fantastic to sit down with somebody like that -- he just had football in his blood, a real immersion in it, and you could sense that with the way he spoke about the game and players.

“I really think I have done it the right way and, if you asked me whether I would swap it for a St George’s Park career path, I would say absolutely not.”

And having been at Ancelotti’s side as silverware has been won with Chelsea, PSG and Real, Clement, who also witnessed the flip-side of life at the top during a brief spell alongside Steve Kean under the controversial Venkys regime at Blackburn, insists his experience at the sharpest end of the game has made him ready for management.

“I know now how important experience is,” Clement said. “What it feels like to win 22 games in a row and then lose three.

“What it’s like to be losing 1-0 in a Champions League final and come up with an equaliser in the 93rd minute, knowing the importance of how to keep going.

“There are hundreds of examples of that learning, from the last twenty years of coaching, and you cannot replace them or learn it from a textbook.

“But when you appoint a manager, I suppose you have to decide what is a risk and what isn’t a risk.

“You can take three examples - the first, you talk about the likes of Guardiola, Mourinho, Ancelotti and Hiddink.

“Those guys are not a risk because they have done it and won at the very highest level with the biggest clubs and very best players.

“Someone like me, in the second category, has spent a long time coaching, learning the game, a background in teaching and coaching, but not playing, yet have been doing what I do for twenty years.

“Then you have the guy who has just come out of playing and, a day after hanging up his boots, is a manager.

“Now between a type like me and the player going straight into management, there is no question for me in where the risk is. The risk is with the player.”

When Clement steps out at the Bernabeu on Saturday, he will encounter the rare example of a British manager testing himself outside the Premier League with Real entertaining David Moyes and Real Sociedad in La Liga this weekend.

With Moyes rebuilding his career in Spain following the chastening experience of managing Manchester United. Clement admits the Scot has shown courage in moving out of his comfort zone to take charge in San Sebastian.

“I have a lot of admiration for David,” Clement said. “He is in his fifties and has no Spanish at all, so it is a big challenge for him.

“It can be really challenging, but it is also very rewarding, to come out of where you have grown up to a new culture, a different style of football and a different league.

“Without a grasp of the language, and I am still at quite a robotic level with Spanish, what can be difficult is expressing yourself, showing emotion, empathy, those kind of things that are really important in management and leadership.

“But in the dressing room, you find what the best way is. Here at Real, some speak very good English, such as Khedira, Kroos, Ronaldo, Bale and Modric, so on a one-to-one, it can be done in English.

“When you are in the job, being able to communicate on different levels is everything. But at Real, the players are so keen to improve and to learn that you have to rise to the challenge to deliver that.

“You can only thrive in this kind of environment.”