I’m ashamed of players who don’t have the desire to stay properly fit, there can be NO excuses

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If I was a manager who had to send one of his players to a fitness boot-camp in the middle of the season, I would find it very hard to accept.

To be a professional footballer, high standards of fitness are not an optional extra – they should be taken for granted, like you would expect a bus driver to have a driving licence.

I would be ashamed of my profession if my players were carrying excess baggage because they simply didn’t care enough about their physical condition.

And it would tell me everything I need to know about the player’s attitude.

Being fit is about showing physical and mental desire to be in the best possible condition.

I do not know all the facts about West Brom sending former England Under-21 international striker Saido Berahino on a four-day fitness programme in the south of France, so I am not going to sit in judgement on his case.

All I know is that Berahino posted a photo of himself on social media with the sarcastic caption ‘fat boy’ – and, in fairness, he looked in pretty good shape.

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He is a player with fabulous potential — only last year Tottenham were reportedly close to signing him for £25million, before Albion allegedly blocked the move.

But there have been other cases of players being sent away to work on their fitness during the season.

Gabby Agbonlahor was packed off for two weeks in April by Aston Villa to undertake a personal fitness programme , and Adel Taarabt had a run-in with Harry Redknapp at QPR a couple of seasons ago about his physical condition.

It worries me, in this day and age, that footballers’ fitness is even an issue.

Maybe you could understand a League Two player who is on £600-a-week cutting a few corners with his diet and lifestyle, but Premier League stars have no excuses.

They have access to top facilities, dietary advice, state-of-the-art gyms, high-class food at the training ground… and all the money they could possibly need to get in prime shape.

But in every case, the desire to do so comes from within.

I’ve been going to the gym every morning with my pal Freddie Flintoff, the former England cricketer, and we see 60 and 70-year-olds there with more motivation and dedication than some professional footballers.

That can’t be right.

In principle, there is absolutely no excuse for professional athletes not being fit to play two games in a week, never mind one.

It makes my blood boil when I hear educated people making excuses for players, saying they may not be 100 per cent because they going into the ‘red zone’.

Red zone?

Do me a favour!

For me, that’s just giving players excuses that they are not as fit as they should be.

As kids, we used to play from dawn to dusk in the streets or in the park, if our mums and dads would let us. I don’t remember anyone complaining about fatigue or the red zone in those days.

Professional footballers, especially at the top end of the game, have a fantastic, pampered lifestyle doing a job millions of kids would love to do.

The very least they owe their club’s supporters is to be in the best possible physical shape to do their jobs – and two games a week.

So much for having a pop at players who are out of shape.

The other side of the coin is when you are genuinely struggling, maybe after a serious injury, and honesty is the best policy.

Luke Shaw has come in for criticism from his Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, with the underlying message that he needs to be mentally tougher.

But I’ve been through the same trauma as Shaw, after breaking my leg playing for Blackburn nine years ago. It still makes me wince to think about it now.

When you come back from a broken leg, it’s like being hit on the shin with a sledgehammer.

I was crying with pain on the physio’s couch after a 0-0 draw at Chelsea when I first returned to action after six months out.

Now, I know I should have knocked on the gaffer’s door and told him I was struggling, but I bottled it up and played in a UEFA Cup tie in Greece four days later.

Needless to say, I was hopeless.

We lost 2-0 and I felt I had let my team-mates down because I should have fronted up about my injury.

I wonder how Mourinho feels now after he criticised Chris Smalling’s mental toughness – only for it to since emerge that the United defender faces being out for a month?

One of the hardest things to do, as a footballer, is to knock on your manager’s door and admit you’re not up to playing.

On one hand, you don’t want to give up your place in the side in case someone comes in and does well in your absence.

But on the other hand, you don’t want to let your team-mates and the supporters down by pretending to be macho and playing on through an injury when you are no use to the side.

Who knows how easily Smalling will get his place back when he’s fit again?

But I have massive respect for him that he flagged up his problem to Mourinho.

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