Day one of pre-season is often accompanied by a sense of never actually having been away as familiar faces get back together to begin the process of preparing for the new campaign, with both spirits and expectations high.
Today’s session, conducted in temperatures bordering on uncomfortable, was very much about setting a base level with PHD students from Salford University drafted in to help with the technical aspects of the sessions.
Part of the return to the normality of life at a football club was the customary first interview with the manager, who admitted that it did feel good to be back amongst the buzz of training and working with his group.
“It doesn’t feel like I’ve been away, and obviously you miss the games and you miss the grass stuff, but I’ve spent a lot of days up here over the summer,” he said.
“I have had a break, so I don’t feel like it’s just gone from one season to the other. There has been a lot that’s needed to be done, but I’m really pleased now that we’re here.
“This is why we’re in the game, to get back and involved in training.”
“I actually only just worked this out this morning, but this is my fortieth pre-season, which is mad,” he added. “I know people will be looking at me and thinking there’s no way I’m old enough for that but, sorry, I am.
“It’s brilliant, and I’ve said to all the players that they have to make sure they enjoy it because I wish I could still do it. As much as I’m sure they think it’s horrible at times, I honestly wish I could still do it.
“I must admit that my knee screams just watching them at times, but I can’t realty complain. I’ve had a really good career, I played longer than I probably ever expected to, but that’s what being involved in this game is about.
“The best thing to do is to play, and the second-best thing is to coach or manage. I’ve got the second best, and that’s not a complaint because I’m really fortunate and happy to be in this position. The good thing is that the lads looked as if they were happy to be back in at the club today as well.”
Having watched the players go through a series of tests in the Neil Centre and in the gym, he explained the thinking behind the first-day process.
“It gives us a gauge of where they are physically, and it gives us something we can look back at over the season,” he commented. “It’s really about checking all of their fitness levels, body composition and checking whether there are any imbalances from their left to right side.
“It’s a series of tests that help us to look after the players. We’re really fortunate that we’ve got Salford University who are helping us.
“Some of the lads who have got PHDs to do have come in, and it’s a little bit of a two-fold thing in that we get the tests done and a real battery of results thrown at us, but also they have access to professional footballers to use that data for their course work.
“It works well both ways and it’s a really good way for us to assess our players to see where they are, and where we need to work up their individual programmes to help them improve.
“Credit to Jamie Roper who has come in on the S&C side of things. He’s brought some fresh, bright ideas and he’s really keen to play his part in developing the group.
“Today was his day. I’ve told him this was the only Sports Science day he’s getting, because tomorrow the footballs come out. I’m looking forward to getting started with that.”
Pretty much expected these days is that the players will have completed their summer programmes ahead of what will be a month of intense training.
“They’ve come back in really good shape,” he confirmed. “You do get that now from your players.
“Gone are the days where you abuse yourselves for eight weeks and it’s up to the club to get you fit.
“Players have to get themselves fit, and over the summer they had probably two or three weeks where they had nothing to do, just keep themselves ticking over with swimming on holiday, walking, golfing or whatever it is footballers do these days, and then they got their own programmes where they all had to start working.
“They’ve been doing that for about three or four weeks, and that started with one or two days a week before it built it up.
“In this last week they’ve done something on the majority of the days with running or body strength work, and we hope that’s given them a little bit of a base as they come back into it, so that we can go straight into the football work.
“In days gone by you would probably do a week or ten days without seeing a football, and it was actually a godsend when the balls did come out.
“The footballs will be out on Thursday and it’ll be a mixture of football work - quite generic stuff, it won’t be anything team shape wise or anything like that - it’ll be getting the players back into the swing of using their feet and thinking and making football decisions mixed in with the physical running that they’ll have to do.
“I’m looking forward to seeing it all. This is the first pre-season I’ve worked with Jamie, and him and Gav and myself have put the programme together. We’ll mix that in with the games and hopefully they’ll be at a decent level of fitness to start the season.”
And he caveated that with his thoughts on what needs to be achieved on the fitness side of things in the coming weeks.
“People think they need to peak on the 30th of July, but I don’t,” he insisted. “I want them to peak for the last ten games of the season because that’s when it really matters.
“We need to get them to a good level so we can hit the ground running in August, and we can then get ourselves into a good position.
“Then, come the last ten games, I hope the players are properly ready to peak at that point so that we can go and achieve what we’d all like to achieve.”
Click HERE to watch an interview with Paul Simpson on iFollow United now.
Click HERE to see a clip from this interview on our YouTube channel. Follow the same link for more FREE content right from the heart of the club.