Every football club needs an Andy Kalinins.
It was nearly a year ago Dave Jones brought him to Hillsborough, appointing him Sheffield Wednesday’s Performance Director.
Kalinins, a friendly, thoughtful individual, is a bubbly personality. He looks after all of the senior players’ welfare, catering for their every need.
“I worked as the first-team fitness coach and sports scientist at Birmingham City but I’m not just that anymore,” he told The Star. “I end up looking after all parts of the first-team players’ make-up.”
He loves his job. He is a specialist in the nutritional side of the sport. One of his duties includes organising the players’ pre and post-match meals, home or away. For example, Glenn Loovens and Atdhe Nuhiu tend to tuck into pasta arrabiata after a game while Chris Maguire may gorge on a chicken tikka curry.
“I work closely with Bev Duffy who is the head cook at the training ground,” he said. “We try and put on the food that they need after training sessions and matches.
“The players have all the normal stuff such as fish, meat and pasta. They have healthy food.”
The food the players have eaten on the team bus following an away trip hasn’t always been healthy.
Kalinins said: “We used to have a pizza chucked on to the bus. I thought that was unfair for a footballer.
“It’s not a great analogy but you wouldn’t feed a racehorse rubbish after it’s just run in the Epsom derby or the Grand National.
“These athletes, that the football club own, cost a lot of money in wages. We have to look after them as best as we can.
“I know people will say they are pampered individuals but they are what makes the club. Without the players, the club is nothing. If we take all the players from Wednesday, the club will fail and fall through the leagues.
“We have to look after each player as much as we can. I will give 100 per cent to every single player. I try to individualise it so that every player gets everything he wants.
“A happy team is a successful team. If you keep them happy, they will perform well for you.”
As well as ensuring the squad’s dietary requirements are met, it’s up to Kalinins to check on travel arrangements. He has a say in the hotels the team stay in.
“Chris Kirkland texted me last week to ask how are the beds in Slovenia,” he said. “He wanted to know if the beds are hard or soft.
“Chris needs a hard bed. He also needs an ice bath every morning on game day. Most of the players don’t like ice baths and won’t go near them.
“These specific individual things are what makes the job interesting to me. It’s what is required to make a successful team.”
Michail Antonio underlined the players’ respect for Kalinins when, after scoring at Leicester, he ran towards the touchline to celebrate with him and physio Paul Smith. Antonio acknowledged the duo’s contribution following his goalscoring return from injury.
“You try and instil confidence into the players,” said Andy. “I can’t go on the pitch anymore. I’m too old.
“The players are almost like my children. My boys. It was unbelievable when Michail and the other boys ran over to me at Leicester.
“Michail picked up a couple of injuries in a short space of time. They do a lot of fitness behind the scenes before they play in the games. He had just got his fitness back. To score in a game is the pinnacle for a player. It’s the ultimate thing.”
Kalinins, who served his apprenticeship at Derby County, working in the Rams’ Academy alongside Terry Westley, has experienced plenty of highs and lows in his career. He was part of the backroom staff when Birmingham City clinched ninth spot in the Premier League in 2010 - their highest top flight finish since 1958/59. A year later, the Blues lifted the Capital One Cup, beating Arsenal 2-1 at Wembley, but ultimately the team slipped out of the top flight after losing to Tottenham on the final day of the campaign.
Now he is helping put Wednesday’s players through their paces in Slovenia. Their five-day pre-season training camp in Maribor is a vital part of their preparations for the new Championship season, which begins in earnest at Brighton and Hove Albion on August 9.
So what are the squad getting up to?
“We are doing double sessions every day,” he said. “We train at 10am and then again at 6pm.
“Between 1pm and 5pm there is a session for recovery, team coaching work, stretching, flexibility, core work, video analysis, pool and gym work. All these little bits go together to make the athlete. It’s full-on.
“We had a hard running session after we arrived on Saturday. We had a game afterwards and the players all then used the spa, the sauna, ice baths and steam rooms.
“The first couple of weeks of pre-season training is usually getting some miles into their legs. It’s aerobic and longer-distance running with recovery and then you run again. You maybe run three blocks of 10 minute runs.
“As pre-season progresses, we shorten the mileage and increase the intensity. In Slovenia, the players are running as hard as they can for four minutes. We will probably do three to four minutes non-stop. It’s great intensity, with a higher tempo and heartrate.
“We can put lots of fitness work into our sessions. Stuart (Gray) will then do a lot of coaching and tactical stuff. Every day is football based.”
As part of their initiation, Wednesday’s new recruits have to stand up on a stage and sing a song in front of the rest of the squad and management team. Goalkeeper Keiren Westwood belted out a couple of verses of Oasis’ Wonderwall while Matt Young attempted Aerosmith’s I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing on Saturday night.
Kalinins said: “When you are away together, you are stuck there for that length of time. The pre-season training camp gives players and staff time to bond. Sometimes the most important factor is the way a team gels together.”
He has a unique perspective on work because his world was turned completely upside down in July 2011, when his wife, Hayley, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It came only four weeks after the birth of their fourth child. The cancer spread to Hayley’s liver and then her lungs.
Andy said: “I took a year off work after Hayley was diagnosed. She was given six to eight months to live.
“But Hayley’s still alive. She’s just gone on a holiday with the kids to Norfolk.
“It was Hayley who sent me back to work. She told me I couldn’t stay at home.
“That tragic part of my life pushes me on, forcing me to be the best that I can be.”
He is grateful for the support he has received from everyone connected with Wednesday.
“I love the job that I do,” he said. “I leave Derby at 6.30am and I can’t wait to get to work. I know it’s a cliche but I look forward to going to work. All the players rally around me and help me. They help me with my life more than anyone else can.”