United end their week long training camp – split between stays at Cassius Camps and Mottram Hall – with an away friendly at Halifax on Saturday afternoon and we took the chance to talk to United manager Keith Curle on Thursday afternoon to find out how useful the five-day package had been.
“There’s a physical element that has to take place during pre-season but added to that, and with the introduction of new characters in mind, it has also been an opportunity to take the players out of their natural environment and help to move the bonding process along,” he said. “It’s given them an understanding of how other lads are socially and how they react to things away from the football arena.
“Something else we introduced this year was the stay-over at Cassius Camps. Everyone had been through the physical tests in the morning, and then the mental test of conquering some of their fears in the afternoon with an abseil and a climb through a cave complex which had absolutely no light.
“From there we had a log fire in the evening, where people were able to relax and come out of their shells a little bit. It was still directed, and under our guidance, but the players were able to create an atmosphere they were comfortable with. There was a lot of banter and laughter and it was very good to see.”
The packed week of activities conclude on Saturday afternoon with that trip to face Halifax Town, with the overall focus now switching to the first game of the season, a home game against Swindon Town in just two weeks’ time.
“Starting from next week we’ll find that the work we do becomes more and more football orientated,” he told us. “We’ve been doing a lot of football anyway, but we’ll now start to focus on how we want the team to play. The different compartments within the team will work on how we want them to operate and we’ll see the dynamics within that start to develop.
“My philosophy towards how I want this club to do things hasn’t changed. I still want us to entertain and to score goals but I do want us to stop conceding as many as we have been. Ultimately we want more points on the board and in my opinion these are all achievable targets.
“That’s why the players have had a ball at their feet from day one. I’ve done a few pre-seasons as a player and I’ve administered a few as a coach and a manager as well, and I’m finding that I’m still fine tuning what I do every year. Whatever else we do I know I enjoy it most when we’re working hard with a football.
“There are different schools of thought right across the game for what the best way is to do things but, and as I’ve said a number of times already, my belief is that the best way to get fit for football is to play football.”
“One of the things which helps us a lot is that the club supplied us with GPS trackers for each player,” he continued. “That tells us exactly what distances they cover within sessions and how they perform overall, whether it’s a walk, a sprint or a jog.
“We also get to see how long they’re working within their maximum red zone so, with the aid of this modern technology, it takes away a lot of what used to be guesswork.”
Looking ahead to the friendlies coming up, he said: “The games we’ve had so far have allowed us to get valuable minutes on the pitch into the players. We always enjoy the fact that we can do that against some of our local teams.
“The next two games will see us hone in on the minimum requirements we expect from individuals within the team framework. You could probably even say that the fans will be able to start to guess how we’ll initially line up for the start of the season.
There aren’t many surprises within a squad of this size and there will be a point when I’ve looked at all eleven of the players I want to start with at the same time ...
“We know we haven’t got a massive squad so there will be a fair idea of what we’re looking to achieve. There aren’t many surprises within a squad of this size and there will be a point when I’ve looked at all eleven of the players I want to start with at the same time.”
“Everything we do now is with the visit of Swindon in mind,” he confirmed. “I’m looking forward to it and I’d play them tonight if I could, but the work we do is about progression. We don’t expect the players to come back match fit at the start of the summer. What we expect is a level of fitness which allows us to take them to the level we need.
“Ultimately we’re on that path and we’re quite happy with the number of players who are where they need to be. I have to say, the fitness levels have been excellent and have allowed us to work the players to an intensity which will stand us in good stead.”
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