Quentin Westberg’s Column: Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

Hi everybody,

My name is Quentin Westberg. I’m 22 and I play in the French second division (called Ligue 2) for the pro club in Troyes – officially called ESTAC (Espérance Sportive Troyes Aube Champagne). I’d like to share with you a little bit of what it’s like to play in France – but understand that I was born, raised and have always played my football here. So I can’t really say that I’m playing abroad and can’t complain about adjusting to a new language, strange food or a different way of life.

Preseason kicked off on June 23rd – 6 weeks before our opening game – with the traditional speech by the president, a few headshots, a short press conference and finally tests to measure body weight and body fat. It went fine for me – I actually lost a few pounds so I was spared the usual “dissing” from teammates and unwanted attention by the medical and technical staff. Our trainer keeps a close eye on our weight: first thing we’ll do, we were told, when we enter the locker room after a day off will be “weigh in.” The next day we underwent physical tests: the “beep test” in the morning to evaluate our fitness, and a Cybex test to evaluate quad and hamstring strength and joint flexibility. Overall my three-week summer break wrought no havoc and I’ve gotten back here fit and ready.

On Wednesday, we left for La Clusaz in the French Alps for our first camp. Basically, preseason camps follow the following schedule: wake up / run / breakfast / practice / lunch / nap / practice / dinner / sleep. It’s not the most exciting time of the year, perhaps, but it’s really important for our bodies to prepare in high altitude early on, to set the tone physically and mentally for a long, exhausting season.

We alternated between training sessions and outdoor activities – some of which we’d never done: one, a little like the movie Cliffhanger called via ferrata was by far the most tiring – and definitely the scariest. Basically, you walk up one of the Alps for 30 minutes. Then you put on all sorts of security gear, tie on to the guy ahead and behind you and start climbing – and sometimes hanging off – cliffs, suspended some 300 feet from the ground. For two hours. The rocks are slippery. 300 feet is high. There’s often nothing underneath you but that clear, crisp mountain air. You have to find the right footing to move forward. Mountain guides are there to coax the overly intimidated along. Cycling 8 miles up another pass in the Alps the next day was a piece of cake.

Besides getting ready physically to be as fit as possible for the sometimes gruelling 40 week season ahead, preseason is about reawakening your kinetic memory and getting back all those good on-field sensations after a month off. And first camps give you time to compare vacation notes and meet new teammates – and this year, meet the new coach.

As you may or may not know, we had a heartbreaking collapse at the end of last season. With 11 games left, we were 12 points ahead of the closest team fighting us for promotion into Ligue1. Then the bottom fell out. We won none of those last 11 games. Our dreams of promotion back into Ligue 1 flushed away with that spectacularly nauseating streak. A lot of the players’ heads got turned around. Tensions mounted between players and staff. The coach was fired the Monday after the last match of the season. Players got released. So with a new coach and a bunch of new guys to get our heads back on straight, we’re focusing on our goal of being promoted to Ligue1 at the end of May.

The bright side to any pre-season, though, is that you always have a lot of fun fooling around with old and new teammates. Getting to know the guys and building some new team chemistry kind of makes you forget about how tired you are. We had our own floor at the hotel and, I can assure you, each day started with incredibly loud music at 6:30 a.m. to get fired up for the morning jog. We laughed a lot. We mocked the stupid TV shows we barely had the energy to pay attention to at the end of the day. And we screamed, hooted and howled during the semi-finals and final of Euro 2008 – despite our fatigue.

Overall, pre-season is pre-season: you always meet new faces, new coaches – and you always run a whole lot, damn it – whether it’s atop mountains, in forests, by the sea or around a field. There’s always a field.

It’s been a great week and half so far. I feel real well both physically and mentally. And now I’m looking forward to our first friendly games, doing another camp in Brittany on the Atlantic coast, slowly realigning our perspective around the competition ahead and, personally, as a force to be reckoned with.

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