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Fighting fit and fired up

New year marks new start for Sagnol

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Fitness coaches Zvonko Komes and Riccardo Proietti set up a three-station circuit on Wednesday, using poles, cones and steppers to test the players’ sprinting and manoeuvrability. The exercises are all basics in the fitness lexicon, but hardly the sort of thing a footballer would be expected to enjoy. You would never have guessed that from watching Willy Sagnol, total concentration written across his features as the first of his training group to attempt each of the stations. The same Willy Sagnol who led from the front in a stamina-building run a couple of days earlier is clearly fighting fit and up for the challenge.

“A new year means a new start,” the French right-back explained afterwards, banishing a lengthy injury lay-off to the dustbin of history. “I’m going to work hard and well, and fight for my place,” he declared. Christian Lell and Philipp Lahm have made the full-back slots their own so far this term, but Sagnol reckoned the competition for the berth was “fantastic. As a player, it puts you under pressure, but you need pressure to play better.“

Differences settled

“I’m possibly even more motivated than I was two or three years ago,” Sagnol confessed, eager to shake off the frustration of an eight-month lay-off following cartilage damage back in April. By the end of the calendar year, he had chalked up two appearances for Bayern’s third division reserves, one over the full 90 minutes, and three brief substitute run-outs for the senior side.

Sagnol himself would have liked a great deal more playing time, but Ottmar Hitzfeld felt the 30-year-old was not yet fit enough. The coach and the player had a brief falling out in early December, with Sagnol publicly issuing a transfer request, but the pair ironed out their differences in a series of face-to-face talks. “I’ve accepted the coach’s opinion,” Willy confirmed, satisfied that his lack of regular appearances “was only due to my fitness, and not my ability as a footballer.”

Hard work over Christmas

“The problem between the coach and myself has been resolved,” Sagnol declared, turning his focus to football and reporting on his progress over the Christmas break. “I worked hard during the holiday. I went running nearly every day and played a lot of tennis,” he revealed, “it was important I kept moving to help my knee.“ The joint in question was completely healed, he said: “It’s back to how it was before the injury“.

Sagnol is now keen to reclaim his regular starting berth both at club and international level, and has set his sights on travelling with France to Euro 2008. “You’ll never play for the national team if you’re not playing for your club,” he acknowledged. Winning back his place in the Bayern line-up is thus doubly important to the player.

Play and lead

Willy is aware he can take nothing for granted. “I watched a very good team take shape in the first half of the season,” he remarked. Sagnol is keen to make his contribution as an experienced leader in Bayern’s quest for silverware this term. “Leadership has a lot to do with experience,” the 30-year-old observed, reflecting on 53 caps for France and seven and a half seasons at Bayern. Sagnol has set a shining example in training so far, and now intends to do the same on the field of play.