First Team 20/07/2019

Foster: “We Were So Supremely Fit”

By Kevin Affleck

Ben Foster is getting the vibe that the Hornets are going to be in similar physical shape to last season when they started the campaign like a runaway train.

Javi Gracia’s primary objective last summer was to get his players in peak condition ahead of his first full season in charge and the move paid off handsomely as the Golden Boys rattled off five wins on the bounce, setting them up nicely for their highest ever Premier League finish and a thrilling run to the final of the FA Cup.

Foster is in no doubt that the foundations were laid during the gruelling summer months and reports there has been no real let-up again during this pre-season.

“Javi’s pre-seasons are pretty good, to be fair,” said the goalkeeper. “The outfield players work very hard and that was the one of the big pluses from last season in the way we started. We were so supremely fit. The lads just get on with and I’ve been at some clubs where people moan. You still get your moaners but here the lads just do it and that’s a credit to them.”

The players have been put through the mill in Austria, particularly on Monday when they churned out lap after lap of their training pitch at the foot of the Austrian mountains in Tyrol. There were members of the squad crawling off the pitch after that particular session.

“We do double sessions every day of the week,” said Foster. “The first day [of pre-season] was just testing and then it’s straight into hitting it hard. We have double sessions, a single session on a Saturday and then off on the Sunday to recover. That’s needed as everyone is on their hands and knees by the end of the week. The first three weeks are pretty hard as you’ve just had six or seven weeks off. You do your treadmill stuff, your gym stuff when you are off, or in my case preparing yourself by cycling up mountains, but nothing can prepare you for that first week and the aches that come with it. It’s a big shock to the system. It eases off after three weeks and you are then double session, single session, double session.”

The 36-year-old is now into his 18th year as a professional and he’s been there, done that and got just about every T-shirt. He’s seen just how the advent of sport science has changed how players are handled in pre-season.

“We used to be running up mountains and stuff – it was horrible, so it’s definitely changed,” he said. “The goalkeepers now have their own schedule and it’s fairly separate from the players. We’ll always join in towards the end when it comes to doing games and six-a-sides.”

Foster also loves how low key the Hornets’ tour is and how they can get the important base work done without too many distractions and sideshows. 

“The big Asia tours don’t really appeal to me,” said the former Manchester United goalkeeper. “We’ve come to Austria, the same place, the same hotel as last year. It’s a lovely place. The training ground is great, it’s a really nice set-up, it’s a lovely setting and there are mountains everywhere and stuff to keep you occupied. It’s exactly what you need and you can just focus on getting fitness in your legs and there are no temptations. You are not going out to be in bars and stuff.”

First Team 19/07/2019

Austria Diary: Day Six

By Kevin Affleck

The penultimate day at the team hotel was a funny old one. 

There was no session out on the grass as the players were in recovery mode. The squad split into three groups and had a session in the gym but there was no rest for Troy Deeney, who made the short walk to the training field with a member of the strength and conditioning staff and was really put through his paces on the bike and on a run. He is now back to feeling human again after his two-day spell in bed through illness.

The players had woken earlier wondering how a 45-minute bus journey home from the Ajax game the evening before managed to take nearly an hour and 45 minutes. On the way there they arrived before a people carrier carrying additional members of staff but their journey back was delayed.

The rest of the day was classified as free time and the players could largely spend it how they wanted. There was talk of a team-bonding session on the go-kart track but that was quickly shelved on insurance grounds. Can you imagine the premium required to cover potential injury to Premier League players worth millions of pounds? 

Instead, some spent the afternoon by the pool; Daryl Janmaat and Daniel Bachmann hired a car and took advantage of Bachmann's local knowledge; Javi Gracia and some of his staff went out for a walk once they had finished analysing the Ajax game; Deeney, Pontus Dahlberg, Andre Gray, Craig Cathcart, Tom Cleverley and Adrian Mariappa went on a cable-car ride in a nearby town while Ben Foster just couldn't resist a little bike ride up the mountains.

He went up with assistant coaches Zigor Aranalde and Isidre Ramon, but lasted just half-an-hour and decided to come back. He was probably half-tired from a tough week and also half conscious of the fact he had borrowed the bike usually used by one of the Klitschkos. That would take some explaining to the Ukrainian brothers if you wrapped it round a tree, especially as the decorated former heavyweight boxers turned up to the hotel mid-afternoon. It was Vitali's 48th birthday, too.

Étienne Capoue rounded off the day by getting a few members of the squad involved in a game of wolf, which is basically a game of bluff he used to regularly play in France. He first introduced the squad to it on the tour of Germany in 2015 and here he was roping Gerard Deulofeu, Domingos Quina, Christian Kabasele, Janmaat, Bachmann and Marc Navarro into his web of deceit. It really is quite something to watch the animated Frenchman try and kid his teammates and get inside their head. This time he managed to lose the battle of wills with Navarro and didn't take it well. There is never a dull moment when he's around.