Niall's Aiming High

DESCRIBED by Alan Pardew as one of the Club's most important signings of the season, Niall Clark has come to Upton Park with some big goals in mind.

Niall joined the Hammers from Reading last month as the new Head of Technical Support, with a brief to oversee everything from fitness to lifestyle of the Hammers stars.

Qualified with a degree in Sports Science, Niall spent five years at Reading, where he worked alongside Alan Pardew to help bring promotion to the Madjeski Stadium.

Having taught PE in London before becoming a leader in his field, Niall's services were coveted by several clubs during his successful spell at the Royals.

But he admits that when his old boss came calling, he could not refuse a move to the Premiership with West Ham United.

"Reading was a great club and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there," he said. "But when I heard about the interest from West Ham it took me all of a second to decide that this was a fantastic move.

"This is a great opportunity for me to work at a massive club, which has huge potential, and to work with a Premiership club is a big challenge in my career.

"It's also great to be working with Alan Pardew again. He's a bright, young, open-minded manager who is keen to develop the Sports Science area to get the best out of his squad.

"My job is to oversee the areas surrounding the footballing side, and basically to make sure that the players are given the best possible opportunity to perform on the pitch for West Ham United.

"That will involve working on areas ranging from fitness to lifestyle. Sports Science can be an ambiguous term, incorporating areas from physiology and psychology to nutrition.

"The dietary side is handled very well by the Club's Head Chef Tim De'ath, so my primary focus will be on the physiology side, covering all aspects of the players' fitness, from training techniques to making sure they have proper rest and recovery time.

"The aim with Sports Science is to get a better understanding of a player's strengths and weaknesses, which will then help to maximise their potential out on the pitch."

To that end, Niall's role will see him heading up the newly designed Technical Department, which incorporates three physios - Steve Allen, Paul Hunter and Andy Walker, a masseur - Vass Petrou and two sports scientists - Tony Strudwick and Alex Dyer.

It's a job that will be crucial to West Ham United's preparation for the coming Premiership campaign, and one that could have substantial benefits on the pitch.
Niall is certainly setting his sights high this season.

"Obviously, the overall aim of everyone at West Ham United is to finish as high up the League as possible," he explained, "and I don't see why we can't aim to finish 10th in the Premiership.

"I hear people say that it will be a massive achievement for West Ham to survive, and of course if we finish 11th I wouldn't see that as a failure.

"But with the set-up and infrastructure at the Club there is no reason why we can't achieve a good finish in the Premier League.

"To give us the best possible chance, my department has three real key aims.

"Firstly, to maximise the individual potential of each player.

"Secondly, to reduce injuries throughout the squad. Obviously contact injuries sustained in tackles are down to luck, but hopefully we can build players' resistance to injury.

"Thirdly, to keep improving on the performance data that this season we'll be getting from Prozone, which measures things like how far a player has run during a game and how much distance he has covered.

"That will give us a good idea of how the fitness of the squad is progressing and what sort of an effect it is having on the team's performance during games."

However, Niall's scope of expertise does not simply cover Sports Science. He also holds a full compliment of coaching badges, something he believes is key to ensure that the work he is doing is interwoven with the aims and expectations of a Premiership football team.

"In my opinion it's of paramount importance that a Sports Scientist also has coaching badges and has a good functional knowledge of the game," he explained.

"It ensures that the training we do is related closely to the needs of the players. It's no good doing a run for the sake of a run, it has to be related to the footballing needs of the team.

"Although we all have different roles to perform, the success of West Ham United is our long-term aim and hopefully the work we do will have a positive impact on that this season."