An increasing number of Premier League stars are using revolutionary virtual reality training to maintain their technique during the coronavirus pandemic.
Many top-flight clubs — including leaders Liverpool — have told their squads to stay away from training and are unsure when sessions will resume.
So players are using virtual reality technology developed by Manchester-based firm Rezzil in their own homes.
The device, with a headset, foot and shinpad sensors, is growing a reputation for aiding rehabilitation from injuries at the elite level, and could now help players retain sharpness during isolation.
Sportsmail understands four of the traditional Big Six already have software installed at their training complexes. Drills include rondo — or piggy in the middle — exercises, finishing practices and help with timing of headers. They measure spatial awareness for established players and are aimed at improving technique among those in academies.
West Ham United’s Michail Antonio (right) has undertaken three sessions with the VR set in his front room over the past week as David Moyes’s squad avoid the Rush Green training ground. The software has acted as a ‘top-up’ for the 29-year-old since August.
‘It’s all about awareness of what is around you,’ Antonio told Sportsmail. ‘You don’t have all the time in the world on this thing. If you take too long then the ball literally disappears and another comes out to start again.
‘I’m not a footballer known for his awareness on the field. I’m known for my brute strength, power and pace. I’ve noticed that my awareness is starting to improve, knowing where people are coming from. It’s helping.
‘At the moment, you’re seeing boys going out to play five-a-side to keep their touch going. Instead, I can be in my house and continue training.’
Developers say that the VR offers the same neuroplastic response as a real ball, specifically weighted for each individual.
Players are given a 360-degree view of the pitch and drills focus on the sort of cognitive pressure that would arise during elite matches.
Vincent Kompany is a strategic adviser at Rezzil and Sportsmail understands one injured Premier League player is currently using the gadget to better understand his manager’s tactical philosophy.
First-team matches are clipped up and players dropped into virtual reality to review specific replays through their own eyes as a learning mechanism. It is believed that one EFL manager heavily relies on this for post-match debriefs.
Antonio claimed that VR enabled him to keep up to speed on his touch during two spells out injured this season in a game obsessed with marginal gain culture.
‘For rehab, it was quality,’ he adds. ‘When you do your hamstring, it’s getting back up to speed that you struggle with. Using Rezzil before I got back on the pitch keeps your ball technique and brain awareness going until you can get back out.
‘You lose fitness so quickly, you have to keep things topped up. Even if it only gives you a five per cent boost, that’s five per cent more than normal.
‘It feels real. Your brain retrains, your whole body believes it’s kicking something and physically playing football. Your mind is thinking you’re touching a ball — it gives you that sharpness.
‘When big boys get involved, talk about it openly, others will follow. It will take off.’