George Baldock identifies the team mate who is championing his case for an international call-up and reveals how yoga is helping him become a better player
Every single morning, before he completes the gruelling watt bike sessions or box set binges which have brought some structure to his days, George Baldock flips open the laptop which sits on a coffee table in his sitting room and begins a Zoom meeting.
“I’ve been doing some yoga,” the Sheffield United defender reveals, describing how he has passed the time since English football was forced into lockdown by coronavirus. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, always felt I should do, but never quite got around to it. So I thought to myself, when all this happened, that it would be a pretty good time to start.”
The past seven weeks have been a largely frustrating experience for Baldock and his team mates, with their pursuit of a place in Europe next season interrupted by a pandemic which has so far claimed nearly 220,000 lives worldwide. Isolating at home, until United’s Steelphalt Academy training complex partially reopened its doors 72 hours ago ago, Chris Wilder’s players have led pretty spartan existences as they attempt to keep pace with the club’s ever-changing fitness targets rather than their rivals towards the top of the Premier League table.
But, as Baldock acknowledges, the change to their routine has been enlightening too as he and other members of a squad which sits in seventh realise how much the game means to so many people and contemplate the terrible toll the disease has taken on wider society.
“Whatever sacrifices we have to make, they’re nothing,” he admits, “Absolutely nothing to those made by folk on the frontline or the men and women working to keep the country going.”
For Baldock, the break in competition has also been an excuse to take up a hobby which, he believes, will prove beneficial when sport eventually returns.
“I remember Nathan Winder (United’s strength and conditioning coach) telling me before we all had to go home that he thought I could get even quicker if my hips were looser and I could get a bigger knee lift,” Baldock, who counts speed and endurance as two of his most important attributes, says. “That brought me back to the yoga because, like I said, I’ve been wanting to do it for months.
“I tried to pick a few people’s brains about it, over the telephone and video calls, things like that.
“Then I got put in touch with a guy from Sheffield who does it and everything has gone from there.
“Nine am, every day, we do a Zoom meeting and I can already see the advantages. I reckon it’s definitely going to help me recover from games quicker as well.”
The practice, which stresses the importance of good posture and proper breathing techniques, has also helped Baldock cope with the psychological challenges the suspension of the fixture calendar presents.
“There’s a breathing and meditation part to it as well, and if it gets the body to get better then I’m sure it helps your mind as well. I’m definitely doing the chores around the house a lot quicker now,” he laughs. “Keeping that focus, trying to replicate the structure we usually have, has actually been the hardest thing from my perspective but everyone will be different.
“When the football is there, there’s always a structure. So I’ve been trying to keep one the best I can, pencil in things I need to be doing and making sure they actually get done.
“It’s been good because I definitely found it harder when I wasn’t doing that, once the training we have to do on the bikes and with weights was all done. Even though I probably feel fitter now than before all this happened, mentally you knew that structure wasn’t the same.
“When there’s football, you wake-up, you to training and you know everything is geared towards a game, which you’re looking forward to taking part in. You don’t have that in isolation.”
With United and the rest of the division now making tentative plans for a June return - a proposal which, despite receiving tacit support from politicians, must still be sanctioned by health chiefs - Baldock has been vocal in his opposition towards those who believe it would be better to scrap the season altogether and simply start afresh.
“Fo the first few weeks it was getting to me a bit, listening to people saying the season should be voided,” the 27-year-old, who helped United gain promotion last term, says. “I can understand football not resuming for the time being because of the bigger picture - I get that - but just to null and void everything doesn’t sit right with me. We’re not involved in the process ourselves as players, we just listen to what the club is telling us and they are speaking to the powers-that-be who in turn liaise with the Government.
“We’re just waiting for them really. Whenever we get back, what will be will be. But it’s got to be safe for the public because we don’t want to put people at risk. When it’s safe, we’ll be ready to go.”
“I’m clinging onto the hope that we’ll finish the season,” Baldock adds. “Not just from a selfish point of view but if football can resume it might give people a sense of normality and positivity they’ve been missing. And I don’t agree with just wiping the season altogether and cancelling out everyone’s hard work either. I believe there’s an integrity issue there as well.”
Like United as a whole, Baldock has been on a remarkable journey in recent years. Previously of MK Dons, the wing-back also completed loan spells with Tamworth, Oxford and Icelandic outfit Íþróttabandalag Vestmannaeyja before arriving at Bramall Lane in the summer of 2017. Baldock has since become an integral part of a rearguard which has underpinned United’s climb up the rankings and is now on the verge of being capped by Greece. Panos Retsos, signed by Wilder from Bayer Leverkusen, has already been capped five times by the former European champions and is championing his new team mate’s cause.
“Panos is a top lad and he’s fitted in really well,” Baldock, who qualifies by virtue of his grandfather, says. “It’s funny because he sits near me in the dressing room, not right next to me but in my eye line, and he wants me to go and do it.
“He’s not taught me any phrases yet but, if it does happen, I’m sure he will. Everything is on hold because of what’s going on at the moment but I’m sure, if they want me, we’ll get everything required sorted out. Right now, though, all my mind is on is getting back out there with us - Sheffield United.”