Vinay Menon has been a part of Chelsea FC’s coaching staff for 13 years now and he has seen it all, but for the yoga teacher and “wellness coach” the thrill of working at the very top of the footballing world continues to be an inspiration.
“There are not many Indians in topflight football. We can see doctors, engineers, accountants from India, but in my trade they are not there. To be part of the training staff which helped Chelsea win the Champions League is a big privilege as an Indian,” Menon, 47, said over a telephone conversation, talking about Chelsea’s unlikely European title winning campaign in the 2020-21 season.
This is not the first time Menon has been part of a Champions League winning campaign for Chelsea – that came in 2012, three years after he had first walked into the Blues training facilities. If back then his work was new and strange for most players, it has since become a highly coveted part of their training cycle.
“Whatever challenges one has to face when you start at a new job, I have faced them all. I had to prove myself on a daily basis. I was a kind of alien in that space. I was a pucca villager, I still am,” Menon said.
Menon’s work, simply put, is to help players as well as support staff deal with stress as well as difficult thoughts and emotions, a work that became even more critical during the pandemic.
“Physical fitness is a different thing and mental balance is a different thing. When you are in the game your mental equilibrium is very important, because you are a showman on the pitch. You need to live up to the supporters’ expectations. When you are taking a penalty kick, 40,000 people have eyes on you. The opposition fans will be hurling abuse as well. They need to be able to focus in that situation. My work is useful in that,” said Menon.
Menon believes that a player needs to be happy to achieve peak performance and towards that goal, he follows a self-designed method he calls ARFA (Awareness, Recovery, Focus and Achievement).
“To be happy, you need to work on four dimensions of a person: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual,” he said. “If you hold all these four together, the result will be very good.”
Menon’s entry into Chelsea was entirely accidental. A client in Dubai asked him if he would be willing to travel to London to teach yoga and relaxation techniques to his daughter and her husband. Menon agreed and met the couple in their London home where they then invited him to attend a football match with them. It’s only when Menon entered the owner’s box at Stamford Bridge that he learnt the fact that his new clients were Roman Abramovich and his wife.
Soon after, he was offered the job at Chelsea. But it took him months to make his first breakthrough, when Didier Drogba decided to try a session, which was optional for players. Drogba was hooked. Then Eden Hazard became a regular. Slowly, more and more players began to see the merits of his teaching.
The man from a small coastal village in Kerala, who had trained and worked in Rishikesh and Lonavala, was now a Chelsea regular.
Menon has now worked with a rotating cast of managers – Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Antonio Conte (who singled Menon’s work out for praise in a press conference) and now Thomas Tuchel.
“As you grow, the pressure increases, you need to deliver quality work,” Menon said. “If I am not able to apply it on myself, I can’t deliver to others. That way I am blessed, because this is the space where my expertise comes so I can apply on myself. I can see the challenges which are coming. Patience teaches you to stand back and do what you need to do.”
Menon said that 20 years ago, he had spent a year working in Mumbai, an experience that also shaped his career. “That is an experience which left a big impression on me, after that wherever you go, it is always easier,” he said. “There is nothing tougher than living in Mumbai. You catch a train…then run to take an autorickshaw…you may get caught in the rain. If you miss one thing then it’s a chain reaction.”
In Mumbai, Menon worked as a part time yoga instructor in Churchgate, and lived in Bhandup, a far-off suburb – his daily commute began at 4am.
“Not having breakfast, surviving on vada pav…makes you a tough man to fight for your own things,” he said. “For a youngster, that type of training is very good. Mumbai is a fantastic place, I love it.”
Even though he doesn’t watch cricket, Menon makes time to watch Mumbai Indians play. Will he consider working in cricket?
“At the moment I am happy where I am…do I need to change? No!” he said. “But we don’t know, life is a flow, let it flow.”