Inside Nketiah’s muscle-building summer workouts and high-calorie diet as star bulks up to carry Arsenal’s title charge
MANCHESTER CITY were expecting the second coming of Jesus.
But on Friday they will be fearing a man rewarded for keeping the faith.
Eddie Nketiah is surpassing expectations after stepping up at Arsenal in the absence of injured Gabriel Jesus, who was sold by City to the Gunners for £45million in the summer.
But that faith Nketiah has shown — in his own ability, in God and in the hard graft he put himself through in the last three years — proved to be the key to making it happen.
The striker was finally presented a fortnight ago with a specially-made golden boot award for becoming the England Under-21’s all-time record scorer.
Yet despite those 16 goals in 17 Young Lions games, which beat the haul set by Alan Shearer and Francis Jeffers, some doubted whether he could be the main man at Arsenal.
An underwhelming — but crucially, formative — loan spell at Leeds in the 2019-20 season under Marcelo Bielsa did not give much encouragement.
And while he showed glimpses in cameos last season, he almost left on a free before signing a new deal in June.
But Nketiah has seized his recent opportunity by hitting six goals in as many matches.
Observers will have noticed how Nketiah, 23, pays tribute to the Lord Almighty in his social media posts after games.
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For instance, after his match-winning double against Manchester United on Sunday, he tweeted: “What a night, I love this team! All glory to God as always, let’s keep pushing.”
Michael Johnson, the former Birmingham and Derby defender, coached Nketiah during his time with the England Under-21s.
He is now the FA’s club engagement lead and was the man who awarded Nketiah his Under-21 chief goal-getter gong.
Speaking about the importance of religion to the 23-year-old, Johnson told SunSport: “He would be the first to tell you that it’s the bedrock of who he is.
“It’s something that has driven him and given the inner belief to be who he is today.
“When you put it together with the hard work he’s put in and his skill, it can make you a real formidable force where you can go through periods where you’ve not played, and you’re still looking at the positive side of things, you’re still training at the same intensity, you’re still believing that you are the main person.”
PILING ON THE POUNDS
Much of that “hard work” has been in transforming his physique from slender striker to muscular frontman over the last three years.
In 2019, his parents googled Chris Varnavas’ strength and conditioning company Athletic Development Club, whose happy customers included Rio Ferdinand and John Terry.
Nketiah has been collaborating with Varnavas ever since, on top of his daily grind at Arsenal. The results are eye-catching.
Most of the work in beefing up the striker has come by pumping iron in the off-season at Varnavas’ gym in Cockfosters, north London.
But they have also worked on his nutrition, sleep, lifestyle and recovery — regularly keeping in touch during the season.
Interestingly, Varnavas told SunSport: “When Eddie first came to us, he was actually under-eating.”
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
After the strength and conditioning team realised that, he was put on a diet of 3,000-3,500 calories a day.
He was on a programme called hypertrophy training in the summer where sessions get progressively more intense to build more muscle.
His increased strength helped him rise to head home his first goal against United — and his improved agility was fundamental to his clinical finish against West Ham on Boxing Day.
Johnson observed: “We’ve all seen the size he’s put on but not only has he put it on, he moves well with it. It’s enhanced him, it’s not slowed him down.”
Varnavas, who used to work at QPR as a strength-and-conditioning coach and trains other Arsenal and Spurs players, says Nketiah’s mindset has been the key to his success.
He added: “What I like about Eddie is he is very humble. He takes his instructions really well.
“Even when he first came to us, when he was around the first team but maybe on the bench here and there, he had that inner belief in himself that he could be Arsenal’s main striker. He never doubted his self-worth.”
Nketiah has clearly always believed in himself — and now others are believing in him too.
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