Aussies Abroad: Darren Burgess

This week’s Aussie Abroad feature has a slightly different angle as we look at Liverpool and former Socceroo Fitness & Conditioning Coach Darren Burgess.

Australian Darren Burgess has enjoyed a career in sports science that has seen him employed at football clubs ranging from Parramatta Power to Liverpool.

The 37-year-old - who also spent two years within the Socceroos set-up - is the Head of Fitness and Conditioning at the English Premier League giants.

The Sydney-born Burgess has always loved the round ball code and landed the job at Anfield 16 years after initially making contact with them.

"When I graduated from University in 1994, I sent out 92 letters to every professional club in England," Burgess said.

"I got three responses back, from Leicester City, Scunthorpe and one other, and they all said no. The other 89 didn't bother to respond.

"Obviously I was keen to work in this environment so to get a job in England and with Liverpool is fantastic."

As a keen sports fan with a particular interest for Sydney Olympic in his youth, Burgess was keen on finding a job that he was passionate about.

"I wanted to be involved in elite sport but I was never quite good enough at anything particular," he said.

"I thought the next best option would be to try and be involved at some other level. I started a sports science degree and that was to try and get some employment within sport."

AFL side Sydney were the first to employ Burgess as he spent four years amongst the fitness staff at the SCG.

But football - his true love - came calling in 2001 and he jumped at the chance to work with the Parramatta Power.

"I went to the Parramatta Power which was great. Football is my passion. I was the fitness coach and did all the video analysis as well. That was a great learning experience for me because I was thrown into the deep end."

Like so many footballers at the time, the collapse of the National Soccer League meant Burgess' dream of working in the sport was put on the back-burner.

He combined lecturing with training footballers one-on-one before he joined Port Adelaide of the AFL, where he spent four years as Head Fitness Coach.

Burgess stayed involved in football, sending Lawrie McKinna video analysis for the Central Coast Mariners, before a chance to be the Fitness and Conditioning coach for the Socceroos and the Head of Sports Science for the FFA arose.

"When the opportunity came up to apply for the Socceroos position I jumped at it. I loved it. It was my dream job to be honest. The main reason why I started doing the sports science course was to work at as a higher level in football as I could. It didn't get any higher than that for me.

"The job was great, working with the best players in Australia. In between that there was a lot of development within the A-League clubs. I really enjoyed working with Rob Baan and Han Berger in coach education and working with the various fitness coaches."

Burgess - who has watched every FIFA World Cup since the 1986 tournament in Mexico - lists working at the 2010 event in South Africa as his career highlight, despite the Socceroos failing to progress beyond the group stages.

What followed was a move to Liverpool, a club who are not only one of the biggest clubs in world football but also one of the biggest brands in world sport.

And that is something that is not lost on Burgess.

"Wherever you go, you are well aware of Liverpool's impact. Whether we are playing in the Europa League in Macedonia last year or a pre-season tour in Asia this year, the support is just incredible. It is phenomenal as a brand. You feel very privileged in a place like this."

Working for a club like Liverpool certainly has its pressures though.

"With the position comes with a fair bit of pressure to perform. I don't want to take away from the fact it is a fantastic position but at the end of the day it is a job and you try and treat Steven Gerrard just as you would one of the Parramatta Power players.

"There have not been too many games that I have thoroughly enjoyed because you are always stressed about the result or injuries, players that you know are carrying knocks and you are just hoping they get through."

Burgess estimates that at least half the Liverpool side enter matches with some sort of fitness issue, something he says is unavoidable with the amount of games played per season mixed with the high tempo of the English Premier League.

His days at Melwood (the club's training ground) are also conducted at a high tempo, with a 7.30am start followed by meetings with doctors, physios, coaches and players.

The Australian then does the training warm-up for a training session - which typically starts at 11am -watches intently, helps players with injury prevention at the gym and has lunch before another series of meetings start, analysing the data that GPS and heart rate monitors provide from training and games.

On the day of a match, Burgess will train players not in the squad during the morning before getting to the ground, preparing drinks and hydration supplements, doing the match day warm-up and tensely watching the game, before a cool-down session afterwards.

It is clearly a busy, high-pressured job but Burgess says the company of fellow Australians - Dr Peter Brukner and Phil Coles on the medical staff and goalkeeper Brad Jones - help him have a laugh.

"It's great having the Australians here. It's certainly made it a lot easier living over here when there are some familiar faces, that is for sure. For Australia Day we all get together and play Men at Work and Cold Chisel just to remind us about Australia…it's been good!

"If an Australian has done poorly in anything from darts to cricket to swimming, a player or a staff member will let us know about it. We've been copping plenty of grief from the English people about the cricket results…the Ashes were pretty painful!"

Understandably, Burgess is reticent to give one player the 'hardest worker' tag but his admiration for the professionalism of the experienced players amongst the squad is obvious.

"It is easy to be dedicated when there are coaches and fitness staff watching. The people that impress you the most are the ones that are dedicated away from training, the people that are good with their diets and with their recovery away from the ground.

"It tends to be the older players, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Craig Bellamy. Those guys really appreciate the fact that it's a limited career."

"With the Socceroos, Phil Coles and I were lucky enough to visit most of the big European football clubs. You pick out a club or a country and we've been able to go through there and have a look at their facilities and watch their training. We were really fortunate to be able to do that."

"The group of players we have here are fantastic and would stack up to any of the European clubs in terms of their work ethic, their commitment to training and their ability to respect staff and what we are trying to implement here. They really are good."