Jamshedpur FC retaining team captain Peter Hartley for a second season in the Indian Super League (ISL) is probably the most important move the team have made in the off-season. The skipper led Jamshedpur to a record nine clean sheets in the 2020-21 season and was delighted to extend his contract by another year after quickly becoming a symbol of the club’s gritty style. While they might have missed out on the playoff spots, finishing 6th in the table, Hartley’s performances as a leader were exemplary. For the 2021-22 season, which begins next week, Jamshedpur has high hopes for Hartley's continued excellence.
The 33-year defender old put in some impressive numbers last season: In 19 matches, he played more than 1,600 minutes, made 52 tackles, 22 interceptions, 72 clearances and 23 blocks. When the players' fitness was assessed in the first week of pre-season, Hartley ran the longest distance in a 10-minute endurance test.
But behind those stats is a story of unshakeable dedication. “During off season, I woke up at 5am every morning, went for a run, hit the boxing club, went back home, and got my 4-year-old ready to be dropped at school. There are days when I want to hit the snooze button, a tiny voice which says ‘stay in bed’, but I know how important it is to not listen to this voice and make sure my tank keeps running,” says Hartley.
While some of this drive can be attributed to playing under fiery former Manchester United captain Roy Keane, Hartley credits his upbringing for his competitive streak and infectious enthusiasm on and off the pitch. “I believe I am a natural leader. I was captain of my hometown club at 22 and the way I was brought up, there was always a focus on outdoor activities and sport and winning. Be it cards, or in the gym, or squash, I will come back stronger and beat anything that is beyond me,” he says.
Hartley’s mentality is a driving force behind his physical fitness. But even the most driven individuals need the right people supporting them. It doesn’t happen often enough, but the Jamshedpur skipper credits a large part of his consistency to Adrian Dias, the club’s strength and conditioning coach. “One big reason to come back was the way he’s made me feel younger and stronger. I am 33-years-old, but feel like I am 23-years-old. My body feels fantastic and I have learnt exercises from Adrian that I haven’t done in 15 years of my career.”
Dias has also worked with Tata Football Academy, current ISL champions Mumbai City, and Indian Premier League (IPL) teams Gujarat Lions and Kings XI Punjab. In a club interview in 2018, he said his main role is to analyse fitness performances, manage a little bit of the dietary aspect and make sure that the players are in their best shape for the rigours of the season. “We need to work on speed, power, agility, reaction, and quickness.”
Dias set up a leg day for Hartley on the day of the interview with a finisher to the routine: four sets of six reps of back squats. Hartley and his new centre-back partner Eli Sabia (signed this season from Chennaiyin FC) managed to rack up 160kgs on their sets, which is nearly twice their weight. The other exercises they did on the particular day were Romanian deadlifts, power thrusts, pistol squats, and single leg lunges.
“We don’t do 1RM (rep maxes) because it isn’t relevant to our sport. Our exercises are basic but done with a focus on technique and activating certain muscles, mainly the quads and glutes and hamstrings. We work on explosive power, and on short and sharp movements because being a centre-back would involve a lot of jumping and heading the ball,” Hartley says. He also likes to go through a light leg workout the day after a match, and his other gym sessions include working on the upper body or a long 45-minute core session.
The Hartlepool-born footballer’s approach to fitness is holistic, and not just made up of physical activities and working out. “You can be faster and stronger, yes but you also need to read and discover new interests to keep yourself motivated.”
On being asked of the few things that people who don’t live the athlete lifestyle can do for working on their fitness, Hartley says that he recommends running as the first step to feeling good about exercise: “Get up early in the morning, and run. When you finish that run, you will have so much energy. Running is not just a physical activity. But just being with your thoughts for that much time is mentally incredible. I have been running outside of training since my 20s. Maybe it was15km then and now it’s 8 or 10km as I grow older, but I will run.” He also suggests incorporating Olympic lifting to one’s workouts. And then of course, there’s boxing. “Boxing is what makes me anticipate things before they’re coming at me.” A very important quality for a centre-back.
And despite all the exercise and outdoorsy vibe that Hartley gives out, he has played around with his diet to suit his match schedule. “I think one should have a balanced diet. Just make sure you know what you are doing the next day when you load up on carbs. I used to eat a lot of pasta before training and then realised not every session is that draining. So now I add carbs about a day and a half before a game. But learn to treat your mind and body. A chocolate here and there harms nobody,” he says. The club has a rule where players don’t eat dessert until after the game, and it is something that they’ve been following.
Even at 33, his commitment to the sport and his fitness means that he will be expected to spearhead another campaign under head coach Owen Coyle. But it is his presence that makes Jamshedpur a tricky team, and difficult to break down when Hartley and co. are firing on all cylinders. But he promises that there is more to come, from the team, and himself: “You’ll see an even better Peter Hartley this season,” he says.
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.