Former Orlando Pirates fitness guru wants Everton in the Champions League


New Everton FC performance manager Franck Plaine has set his sights on leading the club’s Women’s Super League side the UEFA Women’s Champions League, and to restore their former glory.

One of the more established women’s top flight sides in the UK, Everton‘s success since 2010 has been marginal at best as investment into other teams outstripped theirs, and they currently sit in the bottom half of the WSL table after eight fixtures.

Former Orlando Pirates fitness director Plaine, who only arrived in November from stints with Zambia and Uganda‘s men’s national teams, is undaunted, despite not working with a women’s team before.

But, whenever possible, Plaine says he watched the elite women’s tournaments. This is precisely where he and his ambitious new colleagues, helmed by head coach Jean-Luc Vasseur, want to take Everton — To Europe’s top competition.

Plaine told ESPN: “We want to be part of the Champions League, so we have to reach the top three. [To finish in the] top three in England is not so easy, because you have big clubs. Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and [Manchester] United — big clubs, but this is something that we want.

“The club is ambitious to achieve things in the future. We are here to try to bring the club on a higher level. We will try very hard with the players. We don’t see it as any pressure, but just something that you see in your mind for later — that objective, we want it.

“We want to compete in all of Europe and take part in these big events like the Champions League. Definitely, it will be a challenge, but let’s see. Being on the podium and competing for the cups is what we want.”

Plaine, who was with the Buccaneers for three years till March 2021, earned his stripes working with world football’s top talents at Clairefontaine Academy and Paris Saint-Germain [PSG].

But it took years of internships and banging on the door of the industry before Paris-born Plaine finally got a foot in. In 2009, he landed a job at the French Football Federation’s Clairefontaine as a fitness coach with a particular focus on rehab training.

“[I worked at] youth level especially, with the INF Clairefontaine Academy both [with] boys and girls — mostly boys, I can’t lie. A big, big part was with the medical centre. [I worked] as a rehab trainer [and handled] how to deal with the player when he is injured, how to propose [for] him in a good way to come back to training and return to competition,” Plaine said.

“Also, because this medical centre is inside Clairefontaine, you could have professional players coming, international players — [Hatem] Ben Arfa, [Abou] Diaby — big, big players coming for their rehab.”

Plaine, who has three Master’s degrees, went on to work with more star players at PSG as he served as a fitness coach for the reserve, U19 and U17 men’s teams from June 2013 to September 2014.

He went on to take on youth development roles in Qatar and Malaysia which he earned through his contacts at PSG. In 2018, an opportunity to take on his biggest senior role yet presented itself with Orlando Pirates.

Hired as the club’s head of strength and conditioning, Plaine even had a stint filling in as an assistant coach to Rhulani Mokwena in 2019, prior to the appointment of Josef Zinnbauer as the Buccaneers’ permanent head coach in December of that year.

Under Zinnbauer, Pirates won the MTN8 knockout tournament in 2020. After they finished second and third in the league respectively during Plaine’s two full seasons at the club, he departed in March, shortly before the conclusion of his third.

Marshall Munetsi, a Zimbabwe international midfielder who was often used in defence by Pirates, flourished under Plaine’s tutelage and ultimately earned himself a move to Ligue 1 with Stade de Reims in 2019.

Munetsi said of Plaine’s strengths, which Everton will be keen to utilise: “From the first day Franck arrived at Orlando Pirates, he was full of energy and passion for the game.

“He helped me a lot to improve my game, diet and mentality. I remember making a joke with him that when l will be playing in Europe, it will be Paris Saint-Germain, because he loves them.

“My full debut [for Reims] was against PSG and we won and he was the first person to come to my mind, since we had always talked about it and l was just happy to show him that he played a huge role in my career.

“If it wasn’t for him, l would not have developed my game to another level.”

It is little surprise, then, that after brief stints heading up performance for the men’s national teams of first Zambia and then Uganda, Everton came knocking.

The Toffees recently appointed Vasseur, a former Women’s Champions League-winning manager with Olympique Lyon, as their women’s boss. He and Plaine both previously worked in PSG’s youth structures, although their time there did not overlap.

When he got in touch with his compatriot with an eye to bringing him to Merseyside, Plaine did not need to do much convincing.

He said: “The communication was just simple and easy. I understood his [Vasseur’s] philosophy and vision and how he wanted to work — the responsibilities that he wanted to give to his fitness coach.

“The only really new thing for me was to work with a female team. To work with him and [assistant manager] Frédéric Piquionne was an easy decision. It was quite evident and simple.”

Although he modestly refers to himself as a “fitness coach”, Plaine is in charge of a highly structured performance department, which — despite his high regard for the professionalism at Orlando Pirates — he admitted was a step up from his past experiences.

Plaine added: “In Everton, we are quite lucky with a good structure. It’s solid, so you will find in that department physios, the doctor, you have [a] nutritionist, you have a rehab trainer, someone that is focused on the gym, you have a physiologist — tracking [and] monitoring of all the GPS data.

“Maybe, a psychologist will soon be with us in that department, trying to get the best of the players — [we are responsible for the players] optimising the time that we are on the field, being available and being fit and ready.

“At Everton, the performance department looks something like that and we’re not far, probably, from what the men have at their disposal. Equipment is also great — it’s the same training ground as the men’s professional [team]. We’re quite lucky with everything.

“Compared to Africa, what I could at times experience, I feel here, we can’t complain [about] anything.”

Heading into the final stretch for 2021, Everton next face West Ham on Dec. 12, before a crucial clash against Marc Skinner’s Manchester United on Dec. 15. With only a few points separating teams in 4th to 10th place, the Toffees will hope Plaine’s teachings pay off quickly.

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