Described in the UK press as Manchester United’s secret weapon, Mick Clegg was instrumental behind the scenes of the biggest sports club in the world from 2000 to 2011. The first power development coach in the English Premier League, he helped forge the team’s physical and mental strength throughout the club’s glory years, including completing the legendary treble. Here we’ll uncover why this fascinating book 'The Power and the Glory', sold out on Amazon the first day it was published.
As mentioned in the book’s preface, people’s attention is most likely to be focused on finding out what it is really like working with some of the best footballers ever to play the game, under arguably the greatest manager ever to occupy a dugout. And here Mick certainly delivers, giving more than a decade’s worth of raw first-person insights to the incredible struggles, overwhelming successes and deep relationships that he built with the players and with 'the boss', Sir Alex Ferguson.
However, The Power and the Glory is about so much more. In fact, coauthor Steve Bartram (Manchester United’s Features Editor), reveals that his initial intention was simply to interview Mick about his rehab work with players, but quickly realized that the big story in front of him was the man himself.
Over ten years in the writing, and spanning 31 chapters, Mick takes the reader on a multi-dimensional journey. Starting from the time he transitioned from working in a power station into owning his first gym, through to his eldest son taking over his role at Manchester United. He tells stories of his remarkable life with such honesty and character, it feels like you’re having a chat with him over a cup of tea.
The insights that emerge from the book are relevant for anyone interested in coaching elite sports performance, understanding the deep psychology and politics of playing and working in professional team sports, the challenges of parenting, and the life-changing personal development that comes with a wild roller coaster of a career.
Less well-known is the father of five children who developed his own specialized form of power development coaching, which he taught in colleges. This training methodology led to three of his offspring becoming international class Olympic Weightlifters, and two of his sons playing for Manchester United – the reason why the club initially hired him.
Mick’s unique approach evolved out of his Olympic Sports Gym in Manchester, where he coached national sports teams and mentored talent across numerous sports, one of which was boxing. This later turned out to be crucial in earning the respect and trust of many of the world’s best footballers, as well as Mick taking a massive right-hook to the face from Wayne Rooney - but that’s another story!
As a coach constantly looking to improve himself, his training techniques became more advanced under the pressure of training the Red Devils’ first team and reserve team players, as well as ‘Fergie’ himself. His work even included incorporating a scientific approach to conditioning ‘rapid cognition’ – the first bona fide cognitive training applied to professional soccer.
He also leveraged the psychology and explosive power of boxing to bond with the players and channel their athletic passion.
In combination this all had a huge influence on the team’s athletic performance, exemplified well by Cristiano Ronaldo, who once described his own physique as ‘Built by Cleggy’.
Mick worked with Ronaldo daily throughout his phenomenal 5-year ascension from a Premier League rookie to the best player in the world. In Ronaldo’s foreword to the book, he highlights how Mick played a pivotal role in his career development.
I put in a lot of work to keep in the best condition I can be in, and a lot of my success in that area stems from what I learnt with Mick. The work we did was very specific, very clever and along with the work I was doing on other aspects of my game, it helped me to improve massively.
Within the club Mick worked with a galaxy of star players, gleaning fascinating insights into their different talents. One example is club legend Ruud Van Nistelrooy - one of the world's most prolific goal-scorers inside the 18-yard box. Ruud shared with Mick how he would lose conscious perception in goal scoring moments - literally having no memory between getting into the box, and seeing the ball resting in the back of the net.
But at a much deeper level, Mick untangles the rich human side of soccer. Mick’s gym inside the club was purposely his office, open to any player, any time. And many of the world's most famous soccers stars would come frequently to chat over a cuppa. Not just about their athletic development, but also their worries or just other things going on in their life - from helping design Beckham’s famous VII tattoo, to teaching Gary Neville how to play the guitar. The process helped forge long-term personal bonds with many of the players.
Much of this stemmed from Mick's philosophy to truly understand what really made each player tick, in order to really get to grip with their different needs. In his own words,
When Paul Scholes or David Beckham or Gary Neville tell you that they need *this*, you have a collision of hearts where you work together from an emotional place. To really be creative with another person is to understand them, show them the knowledge that you have and see how they can match and be used together as a force.
This level of empathy led him to realize just how much professional football players are misunderstood, particularly in the media. Mick gives a poignant example of how David Beckham was vilified in the press for apparently suing a company for misuse of his name. It was completely untrue and David knew nothing about it, yet had to defend himself, despite being the victim. And there are many other instances of the players being put unfairly through the wringer in the public eye.
There were also very emotional times too. Amid the celebrations of winning the 2007/08 Champions League final in Moscow, Mick recounts how his most important memory was actually of Wayne Rooney opening up and crying with his head on his shoulder because he’d been substituted during the match.
He was a huge part of the team and a big part of the success, but he just didn’t feel part of the night because he’d been taken off. It really touched him deeply inside and he needed to get that out. I felt so sorry for him.
Mick covers how his departure from the club was a difficult decision embroiled with internal club politics. At the same time, it allowed him to focus once again on evolving his coaching practices, with the freedom to be creative and exploratory. Setting up Seed of Speed, he steadily built a new gym from the ground-up, specialized around his coaching goal of developing how the brain controls the body.
As well as plenty of Manchester United players training with Mick during the off-season, he also got back to working with athletes across many different sports, including mentoring Aaron Cook to world no.1 in Taekwondo.
In addition, Mick shifted his focus to nurturing athletic potential at a younger age, leading to his gym being dubbed in the media as the ‘Ronaldo Factory’.
The respect and admiration for Mick’s coaching shines through in the testimonials at the end of the book. Along with world and national champions in different sports, the following Manchester United players went out of their way to volunteer their personal insights into what they found so special about their years working with ‘Cleggy’.
• Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United 1996-2008
• Rio Ferdinand, Manchester United 2002-2014
• Ryan Giggs, Manchester United 1990-2014
• Ruud van Nistelrooy, Manchester United 2001-2006
• Edwin van der Sar, Manchester United 2005-2011
• Patrice Evra, Manchester United 2006-2014
• Darren Fletcher, Manchester United 1995-2015
• Nemanja Vidic, Manchester United 2006-2014
• Teddy Sheringham, Manchester United 1997-2001
• Andy Cole, Manchester United 1995-2002
• Louis Saha, Manchester United 2004-2008
• Alan Smith, Manchester United 2004-2007
• Jaap Stam, Manchester United 1998-2001
• Jesper Blomqvist, Manchester United 1998-2002
• John O'Shea, Manchester United 1999-2011
• Wes Brown, Manchester United 1998-2011
• Diego Forlan, Manchester United 2002-2004
When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over as the new United manager he sought to recruit Mick back into the fold. Ole had not only been coached by Mick personally, the pair had also worked together during Solskjaer’s two-year tenure as the club’s Reserves Team manager. Although honored, Mick’s journey with Seed of Speed was now too much to let go of. However, in a perhaps serendipitous twist of Clegg-United legacy, Ole instead hired Mick’s son, Mike Clegg, formerly the strength and conditioning coach for EPL club Sunderland AFC.
The day Ronaldo historically returned to Manchester United’s training grounds he immediately went looking for Mick, instead finding Clegg junior, with whom he fondly shared many stories of his time working with his dad.
For the first time, the Mick Clegg who has always been behind the scenes, wears his heart on his sleeve to bring to the foreground a truly fascinating concatenation of stories inside the real-world of coaching world-class professional football.
All-in-all The Power and the Glory is a tome of incredible life experiences through the eyes of a humble man, driven not only by success in sports, but also through connecting deeply with the athletes whose lives he touched.
The Power and the Glory can be purchased here.
If you’d like to learn more about Mick’s evolving work in sports performance development, check out his Seed of Speed website.
Since COVID Mick also offers remote Zoom consultancy and live training for soccer teams and individual athletes looking to progress their professional careers. Anyone interested can apply here.
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