WHILE all of the recent hype has surrounded the appointment of Martin Allen (pictured) at Gillingham, just as vital could be the arrival of conditioning coach James Russell.
Russell - a Gills fan and former St John Fisher School pupil in Chatham – has a wealth of knowledge, experience and the qualifications to bring the current squad into tip-top shape.
Not since during former manager Mark Stimson’s reign and the “Terror Tuesdays” sessions under the guidance of Danny Ellis have the players had a dedicated fitness mentor.
Previous manager Andy Hessenthaler had his own methods but decided against employing a dedicated fitness guro and the arrival of Russell could be a key ingredient to turning a decent-looking squad into one who can challenge for automatic promotion places.
Players can have all the skill in the world but if their legs aren’t up to it then all of a manager’s best laid plans just aren’t going to work.
Fitness was an area that Stimson was keen on – it was the first thing he tackled when he arrived at Priestfield - and he was able to show off at Wembley during the 2009 play-off final win, leaving all of his substitutes on the bench, with the confidence that his XI had the stamina to get the job done.
A lack of physical fitness can lead to a lack of mental concentration and perhaps that was the reason for the side leaking so many goals last season.
Injury problems have also plagued the Gills over recent seasons and, although the majority of those can’t be helped, it will no doubt be easier to avoid little niggles with a squad in prime condition.
Russell, who is qualified in coaching, sports science and nutrition, worked under Allen at Notts County, following a spell in America, with the Kansas City Wizards and also at Rochdale.
Allen certainly appears to be keen to bring a new dimension to training, with earlier starts and an impromptu dip in the pool at the Strand on Friday.
County were certainly well prepared last summer, as they made a blistering start to their League 1 campaign, earning Allen the September manager-of-the-month award. Things went wrong for Allen over the Christmas period and wasn’t given the time to turn things around.
A good start, at least, will make a refreshing change for the Gills faithful, having seen their side stall early on in both of the last two seasons. A hard pre-season under the watchful eye of Russell will certainly see them well prepared for the League 2 opener against Bradford.
The players head to France on Thursday for a four-day training programme in Le Touquet and no doubt Allen, and Russell, will have plenty more surprises in store for his squad.