Keith Curle on the first day of pre-season training
Manager Keith Curle admitted that it had been a long summer, as far as he was concerned, as he searched for different ways of filling time until day one of pre-season finally came along today.
“I spoke to the players this morning and I told them I’d missed them,” he said. “I’ve actually been bored because I’ve had to spend time on my own or with Lee [Dykes], Colin [West] or Simon [Tracey]. I think we were at a point where we needed the players to come back.
“We’ve done a lot of work through the summer to bring in some good players and I get a sense of frustration because I want to integrate them into the group and get them into our footballing philosophy straight away.
“The reason you sign them is because you want them to express themselves and show everyone what they’re about. We’re back together now and I think we could see this morning there was a bit of nervous energy around when they all congregated in the car park.
“They’ve had an introduction from me and a chat from Danny Grainger, as our club captain, where he was able to set out what he wants from his point of view. They also got to meet Nigel Clibbens [Chief Executive] because I think it’s very important that they’re able to familiarise themselves with key stakeholders at the club.”
“The new players then got an opportunity to introduce themselves to the group and to explain the reasons why they are here,” he continued. “That first meeting is an important one because it helps to set a tone and a standard.
“It shows that we’re organised, we have direction and we know what we want. There’s trust in the players we have here because we’ve pulled them together to make sure we continue with the trend of improvement which will take this club forward.”
The first session after the six-week break was a mixture of football and fitness training, with ball work going hand-in-hand with some gruelling running tests, and the manager confirmed that he was pleased with what he’d seen.
“I spoke to the players after they’d completed day one of the programme and they now know they have 46 work days left to go before the season kicks off,” he said. “Within that they get rest days and preparation days, but I do have to say that they’ve come back in good form.
“The better they are after training on Friday and Saturday the more we will be able to move to football based training next week. I’ve done a few pre-seasons and I think the best way to get fit for football is to play football.
“The quicker we can make sure the players are in good condition the better it is as far as I’m concerned. They’ve had a programme, which Neil Dalton and Lee Fearn prepared for them, and they’ve come back in good shape because of that. That means we will soon be progressing with the football philosophy we want to implement.”
“What we won’t do is run before we can walk,” he commented. “They’ve had a day of introduction and we’ve come back a lot earlier than many other teams would even consider. Our pre-season is designed to take them step by step, so they also get a break in the middle for four days.
“That’s a complete and utter shutdown so they can recharge and get ready for the games which will give them a chance to earn the right to be in the starting eleven. It will by no means be a failure if someone doesn’t get into the team for the first game of the season because we have some very good players here. That brings a good level of competition and there’s excitement around the squad because of that.”
“To add to that feeling of anticipation I had five empty chairs at the team meeting this morning,” he explained. “They have been reserved for incoming players. The group here now will start to form a nucleus, but they need to understand there will be additions because we are going to strive to continually improve.
“Ideally I’d like to start the season with 21 or 22 players because that would give us a good foundation, some real selection problems and an opportunity to play whichever formation the players have demonstrated will work best for the team.”
On the absences of Jabo Ibehre, Reggie Lambe, Alexander McQueen and Tom Miller from training day one, he said: “Reggie has been on international duty so his conditioning is spot-on. He’s been in good communication with Lee Fearn and he will hit the ground running because he hasn’t had a summer break.
“We felt it was important for Reggie to get back to England and reacclimatise and readjust, so he will be with us on Monday. With Jabo Ibehre, what you find with me is that I look after players.
“If I feel a player needs an extra couple of days I will give it to them. There’s no conspiracy and it’s just a case that I’ve had a conversation with him, and I need Jabo to come back into this football club in the right frame of mind.
“Sometimes, with the older players, you give them a little bit of leniency because they know how to look after themselves. When they come back into the group they’re ready to go and, make no mistake, everyone wants Jabo Ibehre in this football club.
“We’re still negotiating with Tom Miller and Alexander McQueen. It’s been difficult with Tom because he’s been in Bali on a family holiday and I think he’s had numerous offers. You’d expect that because he’s coped with league football, scored some goals and got good recognition. I think that highlights the recruitment process we have in that we’re prepared to go non-league, or into the leagues above, to find the quality we need.
“As I say, we’re still negotiating and we’re talking to the players, their representatives and even to their families as well.”
“It’s all good because I’ve been waiting to get back to work,” he concluded. “It got to the point where, on my days off, I was even coming to Creighton to check the grass was right. I don’t know if you’d call that sad, or whether I just need to improve my social activities - the fact is I care.
“Put it this way, if Portsmouth agreed to start the season next week ... we would.”
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