In football, and in sports in general, results are what matter the most. You can play well or badly, but if you win in the end, everyone's happy. This is all the more true in Italy, home of door-bolt defensive play and speed-of-light counter-attacks. Or, this had been true until July 3rd, 1987. On that day, the then-little-known Arrigo Sacchi became AC Milan's coach. In his new role, he launched a cultural revolution right from the start: the quality of the game should come before results, putting up a show for the spectators to enjoy had to be more important than league rankings. It sounded like a challenge coming from a modern-day Don Quixote. It started out as an extremely tall order: the team was defeated several times and even knocked out of the UEFA Cup, causing a stir among angry supporters. Mr. Berlusconi, who had been the team's president for just over a year, though, warned them: "Mr. Sacchi is here to stay, I don't know about you guys." The end of the story is written in the golden roll of the series: AC Milan won the championship and that title was just the first milestone in the most incredible winning streak in the team's history. Sacchi's 4-4-2 formation became an iconic principle in the world of soccer, applied by stars like Baresi, Maldini, Gullit, and Van Basten—the very elite of an entire soccer generation.
But there's a more obscure, although not less important, side to that revolution: the athletic training to which the coaching staff of AC Milan began to submit its players. Sacchi's "total football," in addition to perfectly synchronized tactical mechanisms, requires a level of intensity and pace that only specific training can ensure. It is not by chance that in those years, the partnership between the "Rossoneri" and Technogym began: Technogym's equipment was selected for AC Milan's gym—a modern facility equipped with machines for cardiovascular, strength, and recovery and rehabilitation training. Today, it may sound normal for a team in 'Serie A', the Italian premier league, to have a fully equipped gym for its players, but back then, it was nothing short of revolutionary.
Almost twenty years later, the partnership still stands: in Milanello, though, the old gym has evolved into Milan Lab, a project started back in 2002 which so far has allowed over a million records to be acquired based on tests carried out on the team's players. "This data collection is extremely important to manage our athletes' health," explains Daniele Tognaccini, AC Milan's trainer for the past 15 years. "These tests help us identify tasks or situations implying risks for each player. It goes without saying that this information is invaluable for whoever has responsibilities in the management of the club, particularly in regard to the players' health and well-being. The Milan Lab project also goes hand in hand with the functional training philosophy at the heart of Technogym's strategy."
Functional training is inspired by natural movements, achieved via the synergistic contraction of different muscle groups. It is at the opposite end of the scale from the "compartmentalized" muscular work typical of traditional equipment. At first sight, it may sound like an oversimplified approach: but in fact, it activates the deepest-set muscles, stimulating precious joint stabilization. "This new gym training method," continues Tognaccini, "meant enormous advantages for the physical preparation of our footballers, because through technologically advanced tools, I am thinking for example of Technogym's Omnia, we can simulate the efforts demanded of athletes on the field. Moreover, indoor training, which we refer to as dry training, is essential to work on the compensatory mechanisms typical of soccer. For example, all the work we carry out on the posterior muscle chain, normally heavily contracted due to flat-stride running, is compensated for with gym work. The new Leg Press by Technogym, combining traditional overload with different training options with elastic bands, is an extremely useful tool to exercise problem joints and muscle chains, as it allows for the maximum degree of progression and control. Last but not least, these machines help eliminate inertia, unlike traditional machines where it is a major factor."
The involvement of players in training and physical preparation issues also began with the cultural revolution that occurred from the mid-Eighties. The typical soccer player who only enjoyed training if it involved non-competitive matches and would do anything to avoid interval training is a stereotype of the past. "Today, players do not just train on the field," concludes Tognaccini, "just think that the AC Milan players spend about 50% of their training time at the gym. This is why it so important to be able to rely on a high-profile partner. We chose Technogym because it meets all our requirements and because our players have a special feeling with this equipment, and particularly with Pure Strength–line machines, designed for muscle strengthening. Ever since we've had them in Milanello, many players have chosen to work out only on these machines, because they convey a feeling of higher performance compared to other equipment."