Ryland Morgans Feature: 'Sam Is Always Looking For That Edge'

by Paul McNamara
@Everton

A “risk business” is how Dr Ryland Morgans describes football. It is a perfectly understandable outlook. The Welshman, after all, devotes his time to nurturing elite athletes – then watches on for 95 minutes, as the thoroughbreds he has meticulously primed sprint, tackle, leap, stretch, twist and turn.

And Morgans is exceptionally good at what he does: which is get footballers fit. “We have nearly cleared the decks,” he says, in reference to Everton’s fast-dwindling injury list.

A sparsely populated treatment room at USM Finch Farm is testament to that fact. It serves, too, to explain why Sam Allardyce installed Morgans as the Club’s Performance Director within days of being appointed manager at Goodison Park.

Equally, it tells you all you need to know about Morgans’ respect for the Everton boss that he jumped at the opportunity to be reunited with Allardyce – six months after the duo parted ways following a fruitful stint together at Crystal Palace.

Indeed, on this score, Morgans knew there was no gamble involved.

“Sam is excellent and always looking for that edge,” Morgans tells evertonfc.com.

“He is more than happy to think outside the box – whether that is regarding therapy, equipment to help improve recovery, deal with an injury or get players fitter, or something to help with the players’ minds.

“If I can put a concept to him and explain how it will benefit us… he has not said ‘no’ to anything yet. That is because he is forward- thinking and open and receptive to change – as long as it is for the better. He also often comes up with a concept himself and asks me to look into it.

“If it is something new and contemporary, he is prepared to try it. To work with a manager like that is fantastic.”

Morgans’ view on Allardyce tallies with the popular perception of a boss renowned for embracing pioneering techniques.

He was at the vanguard of the introduction of analytical tool Prozone into English football way back at the turn of the century when in charge of Bolton Wanderers – and has existed at the cutting-edge of his profession ever since.

Morgans, meanwhile, has all bases covered. He can talk football with the authority of a man in possession of the blue riband UEFA Pro Licence. A PhD in football science with over 30 published papers takes care of the physiology and psychology.

Nevertheless, exemplary qualifications or not, anyone striving to reach the summit of their profession needs to catch a break at some point. The key is to recognise the moment, to see the opening and charge through it.

Morgans was never likely to fritter away his chance. He had, after all, worked like a trojan to earn it.

From the outset of his career he wanted to be the “best coach” he could be. And a leader in his specific field of expertise. To listen to the ardour with which Morgans speaks about his job, and to hear him outline his immense body of work, is to appreciate why he was considered one of Wales’ most valuable assets. In his former position as his national team’s Head of Performance, he nursed Gareth Bale et al through the country’s remarkable run to the 2016 European Championship semi-finals.

“If you have a spectrum of my type of work, there is a PhD at one end and a Pro Licence at the other,” says Morgans.

“Between the two I have tried to fill as many gaps as possible, with various qualifications and experiences along the way.

“It helps me when I need to be talking to coaches and managers in football terms. Then, when I need to talk in scientific and physiological terms, my PhD helps with that.”

Morgans was already lead coach educator for the Football Association of Wales, designing and delivering UEFA A and Pro Licenses, when he received that vital break.

It was unforeseen and hardly equated to hitting the jackpot – but it was the slither of fortune he needed.

“David Kerslake [the former Swindon Town and Tottenham Hotspur full-back] studied for his A Licence with the FAW,” says Morgans. “He was assistant to Colin Calderwood, who was managing Northampton Town.

“Off the back of that I went to meet Colin and got a job on his coaching staff. We were promoted out of League Two, then I followed him to Nottingham Forest and we won promotion into the Championship.

“I then spent a period of time at Fulham under Roy Hodgson, but more as a rehab and fitness coach.

“Shortly after Brendan Rodgers took me to Swansea and we were promoted into the Premier League.”

Morgans went from Swansea to Liverpool and, after four years at Anfield, which included the Reds’ mounting of a title bid in 2013/14, and Europa and Champions League experience, his next assignment was with Allardyce at Palace.

Sammy Lee and goalkeeper coach Martyn Margetson, both now ensconced on Allardyce’s Everton backroom team, were at Selhurst Park, too, and the quartet combined to drag the Eagles from a position down among the dead men around Christmas time to tranquil mid-table pastures by the season’s end.

Former Leicester City coach and manager Craig Shakespeare has been added to that formidable brains trust on Merseyside. And Morgans is confident this diverse and talented group boast the tools to lead Everton into a prosperous future.

“I have a very strong belief we can achieve success in the longer term,” says Morgans. “Rome was not built in a day. We want to become consistently successful – that is important at a club the size of Everton.

“It is not about being successful for one season and that is it.

“We want to be successful every season. And, hopefully, the manager, Sammy, Craig, Martyn, Duncan Ferguson and myself, along with the other staff who were already here and doing a good job, can make it a success for quite a few years to come.”

The relationship between Morgans and Allardyce is still in its comparatively incipient stages. But the two men have already formed an unbreakable bond of trust.

“I had a loose contact with Sam over a period of time,” says Morgans. “Martyn Margetson worked with Sam at West Ham and with England, and I had worked with Martyn with Wales for a number of years.

“Then there was more of a formal discussion and off the back of that he said, ‘You will do for me’, and that was it.

“I work very closely with Sam and all the coaches. I design the overall training strategy: the football drills and content, the flow of the sessions, how we prepare and recover players. And that is aligned with the tactical strategy the manager wants. I know what that is and where the physical demands are placed on players – and their positional demands within that system and style of play.

“My biggest job is to make sure the players are fit – and therefore able to fulfil their tactical role – fresh and, ultimately, available.

“Within my first week here, we sat the players down in a meeting room and presented all our ideas.

“So they could see it graphically, see what a certain day of the week looks like in preparation for a game. What does a working week look like and why? Why have we got different training times?

“I explained the real science behind what we do and how and why we do it. Players are creatures of habit. But they have to have the right habits. And if they are not as good as they could be, then it is my job to help them through the process of change.

“Education is key.  As is providing the players with the best service possible, to enable them to take on board the information we are giving them. We want to make them more aware, which will help their own – and the team’s – performance.

“There is always an element of change, because there is a new regime in place – and we have to ensure the players can cope with those changes.

“But we are in a risk business and, sometimes, you have to make calculated, educated decisions, based on risk, to try to win matches.”

Morgans, we should point out, was a tidy player himself. He was a young central midfielder on the books at Leicester City, where he was a contemporary of Emile Heskey’s.

“I met up with him when Swansea played Aston Villa and he was still as baby faced as he was back then,” laughs Morgans, who eventually forged his playing career as a right-back in non-league.

“But Emile was that size when he was 16 and that’s one reason why he went on to be such a fantastic player.

“Brian Little was the manager, initially, but he went to Aston Villa and so did all his staff.

“Mark McGhee came in and I was released by him and just missed out on the Martin O’Neill era.

“I broke a few metatarsals in my foot, then there was the manager change and it was, ‘See you later’.

“That is life.”

The course of Morgans’ life altered completely from that point. His fledgling interest in nutrition – ostensibly motivated by a desire to maximise on-pitch performance – gathered legs.

And carried him all this way. He must, on occasion, sit back and consider the distance he has travelled?

Morgans initially refuses the idea.

Finally, reluctantly, he concedes. “Yes, I have come a long way I suppose. There are moments when you reflect on what has happened, but they are fleeting because you do not have time to think for too long.”

Indeed, his focus is on the road ahead. One which leads to a glittering future.

“To win something with Everton? That would rank as a highlight of my career,” says Morgans. “To win a cup or do well in a European competition here… that would be fantastic.

“Once we get a level of consistency throughout the Club that will, hopefully, show on the pitch. And if myself and the manager and the staff here can be part of that success? That would be brilliant.”




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