What The Papers Say - 1 March
Distin on boxing and why the fear of retirement drives him on.
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SYLVAIN DISTIN insists the buzz of playing for Everton means retirement is unthinkable.
The 35-year-old veteran became the first foreign outfield player to make 400 Premier League appearances last weekend, and is showing no signs of slowing down after signing a year long contract extension in January.
Super-fit Distin, who has made 28 appearances already this season, continues to put in the extra hard work to stay in peak Premier League condition, and admits the fear of hanging up his boots drives him on.
He said: “ I know how lucky I am to have this job. I know my lifestyle and my families’ life is down to the game. That feeling when you score or win games is big. There are plenty of amazing feelings from playing football that whatever I do when I retire I won’t get.
“I don’t particularly like training hard or running until I feel sick. But I do it because keeping fit is the only way for me to play games, and that’s what I love.
“I’ve inherited good genes from my dad, but after that it’s hard work. I realised at a certain age that you either rest a lot or work harder so working hard suited me. Every year I try to improve things like my diet etc.
“I love my food but if I can change little things and improve by 5% or stay at the same level it’s good because physically at my age your body stops improving. I won’t jump higher or run faster, but I certainly don’t want to be slower or not jump as high. It will happen but I won’t to put it off.
“There’s no secret. I just work. Beckham is good at free kicks because he stays outside and practices 500 free kicks every day. I’m good physically because every day I stay in the gym and work after training. There’s no magic pill.”
Distin is 36 in December but maintains he is postponing any serious thought about a life after football, as he concentrates on success at Everton - the club he joined in summer 2009.
“It’s difficult to think what I want to do when I retire, because when you play football you start it very young and that’s the only thing you do,” he said.
“I just don’t want to believe I’m going to stop playing.”
The former Portsmouth and Manchester City defender said he would be reluctant to consider dropping down a level to prolong his career, because he loves playing for the Toffees in the Premier League.
He added: “I’ve got three international players competing for my position. It’s not like it’s an easy choice here, but I’ve got good competition which I like.
“I want to enjoy my football but sure if I suddenly found myself out of the team long-term I’d have to think about dropping down. I want to play.
“Everything else is after that. I love playing, I love the atmosphere. If I have to drop down a level then maybe, but that’s not in my thoughts at all because what you get in the PremierLeague you don’t get anywhere else.”
IN professional sport, one momentary lapse can have devastating consequences.
The split second it takes for a champion boxer to drop his guard or shift his feet, can be the difference between unbridled glory or abject failure.
Sylvain Distin knows all about the fine margins of performing as a top-level athlete.
The 35-year-old’s errant back-pass in Everton’s FA Cup semi-final last April which allowed Luis Suarez to lead rivals Liverpool’s fightback was one such moment.
And Distin, who is close friends with Liverpool’s commonwealth light-heavyweight champion Tony Bellew, finds parallels between the unflinching arena of the boxing ring and the football pitch.
And as an avid fight-fan, the defender has found solace and an outlet for the frustrations of his day-job by pulling on a pair of boxing gloves.
“Boxers train hard for a month and then their fight can be decided one way or another in a couple of minutes,” says the player raised in Paris’ Western suburbs.
“You can be on top of the guy and then with one punch it’s over. That must be really difficult mentally.
“It’s hard to compare that to football but then when a lot of people ask me about my best memories at Everton I often think about the semi final. It was a bad moment and the fans may still be angry now about it, but personally I learned so much.
“I wouldn’t ever want to relive it again, make no mistake about that. But now I stand back, and realise I learned a lot about the people around me, my team mates, the fans, even about myself. Maybe it’s similar in boxing.
“You train so hard and then one little mistake changes everything.
“Then you have to work from the bottom again and be really strong mentally. That’s the differences between a top sports man and an average one. You have to get back on your feet quickly when you lose.
“You can’t have doubts in your mind. Boxers can’t be questioning themselves in the next fight; whether to hold back or go for it.
“Like in football when you make a mistake, what do you do next time? Do you try again, try something different or hide and not want the ball? Mentally it’s the same in a way.”
Never one to shirk a difficult scenario, Distin was a street-wise youth raised on the values of hard work and being able to defend yourself.
It’s why he embraces the tough, overtly physical nature of boxing training - an experience he shared with his Everton team-mates when David Moyes sent them to Marbella last month for training which included a stint at professional boxer Matthew Macklin’s gym.
“It was really interesting and enjoyable,” he says. “ I started working on the pads here a while ago with our fitness coach Dave Billows.
“I had the opportunity to get to know Tony (Bellew) a few years ago and been to watch all his fights, and my friend Cyrille Diabaté is a UFC fighter.
“When I was young I did Taekwondo as well so I’ve always had an interest in martial arts and fighting.
“I never really had the time to train that way but as I got to know Tony I realised his training was insane.
“It’s completely different from what we have to do. They were only short sessions but they were tough - very tough.”
Everton’s defence has taken a battering in recent weeks, with the Blues twice conceding late in games leading to damaging consequences.
Distin and his colleagues have had to face some hard scrutiny, both externally and from themselves, and he admits the heavy-bag at Finch Farm has felt the brunt of his frustration.
“You don’t think about anything when you’re hitting the pads,” he says. “You just go hard and when you’re finished you are a lot more relaxed. It’s therapeutic.
“I only do a few rounds on the pads, but you feel muscles working that you don't feel playing football.
“You can be as fit as you like on the pitch but go on the pads and you’ll feel it. I don’t have the technique either so I just go for power and want to make every shot a hard one so after a minute you’re flagging.”
Distin’s boxing training is just one aspect of his dedicated approach to remaining super fit, something that comes from a rigid work ethic forged in childhood.
“I don’t know a lot of footballers who came from posh areas,” he says.
“Football is popular for a reason because you don’t need much - just a ball.
“So obviously when you’re out a lot on the street with your friends you get into scrapes but I didn’t need to fight to survive or anything.
“It was more about learning values like if you want something you have to work for it.”
The defender is determined not to harbour the same frustrations as this week after the Blues have faced Reading on Saturday – a game they must win as they bid to stay in the mix for European qualification.
“There’s definitely plenty of things we can still achieve,” he says. As long as there’s still games to play and we’re in the cup there’s incentives between now and May.
Tickets are still available for the visit of Reading to Goodison Park on Saturday.
Prices start from £31 for adults and half-price for juniors for the Premier League clash.
To buy visit the Goodison Park Box Office, call 0871 663 1878 or visit the Liverpool city centre ticket outlets at Everton Two or the TicketQuarter in Queen Square.
Everton have invited Aarhus’ Denmark Under-19 keeper Thomas Hagelskjaer, 18, for a trial next week.
Meanwhile, Doncaster want Everton midfielder John Lundstram, 19, to stay on loan for the season.