After a team day off yesterday, Miguel Britos and Nordin Amrabat are out first for today’s 11am session. Daryl Janmaat comes out and playfully squirts water at the intern handing out the GPS vests. Troy Deeney bounds out and hurdles the advertising boards.
It’s not long, however, before he asks one of the interns to go and fetch his old pair of boots. The intern puts on Deeney’s new ones to break them in. “I don’t mind,” says the intern. “He gave me two free pairs last time for doing it.”
Amrabat goes back in to get a jacket as it’s bit chillier than it looks.
Top pro Adrian Mariappa is a real favourite of the coaching staff and he’s fist-pumped by assistant coach Luca Vigiani when he comes out. They love his attitude.
Like schoolboys arriving for registration just before the first bell, Abdoulaye Doucoure, M’Baye Niang and Brice Dja Djedje hurriedly join up with the group as Walter Mazzarri blasts his whistle to start the first session of the week. Dja Djedje also harnesses the help of the interns, asking one to get him some E45 cream. He rubs it on his lower legs. “He’s always asking for some,” says the intern.
Mazzarri addresses the full squad before Deeney and Rene Gilmartin lead two groups over a series of hurdles and steps, and through a succession of poles to get them loosened up and the blood pumping.
Assistant coach Vigiani then runs the players through a one-touch drill of one-twos. Dja Djedje fizzes one in so hard and fast to scholar Bradley Empson that it almost knocks him off his feet. “Pass quick and no mistakes,” says Vigiani.
The players then break into two groups: those who started Saturday’s game at Spurs and those who were substitutes. Those who started don’t have to do quite the same amount of lung-busting running as the subs but everyone gets a good blow out. Those who started against Spurs also sit out the three-touch game that concludes the session. They sit on the sidelines itching to be involved.
The seven Under-18s roped in to make up the numbers are in the thick of the action, with Jubril Adedeji sticking the first goal of the game past Giedrius Arlauskis. “Red card,” jokes Arlauskis after a tackle by Adedeji on Reece Stray.
The Under-18s are clearly keen to impress with Sporting Director Luke Dowling and Head of Academy Chris McGuane looking on. The livewire Stray goes for goal when he could have squared to Deeney.
Deeney does get a sight of goal, stinging the palms of Rene Gilmartin with a sweetly-struck volley. “What a hit,” says Gilmartin in his best Andy Gray impression. Pantilimon replaces Arlauskis at one end and, ever the pro, asks for the names of the Under-18 lads on his side. These games matter to Pantilimon.
Arlauskis goes over to do some one-v-one work with goalkeeping coach Paolo de Toffol. “You’re like Spiderman,” says the Italian after one flying athletic save from the Lithuanian.
Deeney again ends the session with two penalties, blasting the first over the bar. He clearly saves his misses for training.
You wait ages for a holding midfielder to return from injury and then two come back at once, Ben Watson joining Valon Behrami in returning with the main group today. “He’s back,” says Gilmartin while clapping those massive gloves of his together to warmly welcome Watson. Etienne Capoue rarely misses a session and he’s also back involved today after training on his own yesterday.
Behrami is quickly back at his tigerish best, snapping into tackles on David Sesay and then Stefano Okaka. Sesay is also on the receiving end of a heavy tackle from Deeney but, soon after, the teenager drops the shoulder and kids Camilo Zuniga with a smart move. “Good turn,” praises Capoue.
After some sprinting exercises, Watson and Behrami head in as a precaution as their workload is managed. “Pleasure having you back,” applauds Deeney with his hands above his head as if the pair are being substituted.
Mazzarri’s right-hand man Nicolo Frustalupi then organises a roll-on, roll-off five-a-side game involving three teams. The winners stay on. Tom Cleverley rattles in the first goal as Scott Duxbury, Luke Dowling and Filippo Giraldi all come out and watch from various vantage points. It’s a good watch. Heurelho Gomes makes a brilliant save to deny Isaac Success and then two more to keep out Janmaat. “Great saves, big dog,” says Deeney. “I’m tired,” says Gomes who is leaping around like someone half his age. “You don’t know the meaning of tired,” says Deeney. “You are like the Duracell bunny.”
Success leaves Amrabat for dead with a lovely stepover; Doucoure bends one in the far corner with the outside of his right foot and things are so competitive that Deeney is making a flying defensive block to keep his side in it. Deeney’s team are crowned the winners. “Well done boys,” says Frustalupi.
Nobody hangs around for extras today as the players have emptied the tank.
“I’m getting old,” says Behrami as he hauls his 31-year-old body out for training. The good news is that he and Watson have suffered no ill-effects from yesterday’s first session and they take a full part today. Sebastian Prödl and Jose Holebas also join in for the first time this week. The temperature has dropped and M’Baye Niang has gloves and a snood on. “Is it December?” asks Behrami.
Watson heads one in the warm-up and talk, perhaps inevitably, turns to the header he scored to win the FA Cup final. “You didn’t know that story, Daryl?” asks Gilmartin of Janmaat. “You can watch it on football classics,” he jokes of the moment in 2013.
Twenty-seven players, including several from the Under-23 side, report for training, the largest in weeks. Mazzarri takes the opportunity to do some specific work with the defenders and then the attackers. He’s very hands on and very animated in getting his point across.
In between times, a game of piggy in the middle keeps the other players occupied and entertained. Arlauskis is a real character and has his teammates in fits of laughter when he takes his turn in the middle, the goalkeeper flinging himself around while everybody else stays on their feet. They do say you have to be mad to be a keeper.
The pairings of Gilmartin and Dja Djejde, and Kabasele and Dja Djedje suffer the ignominy of seeing 20 passes bypass them and they are made to stay in for another round, much to the delight of ringleader and chief pass counter Capoue. Dja Djedje is, however, called Dimitri Payet by Success after a couple of cheeky no-look passes. High praise.
Following some activation exercises and some sprint work, Frustalupi organises a full on 11-a side game. The shadow XI take a shock lead when Ogo Obi, the young pro who was lively down the right flank, heads in after good work down the left by Dja Djedje. You only have to see the effort Mariappa puts in to attempt to clear it off the line to see how seriously these games are taken. Success levels the 30-minute game with a goal that earns applause from everyone watching. He produces two lollipops on the edge of the box to fool two defenders before firing past Arlauskis.
In between times Janmaat, who needs no second invitation to get forward, slapped a left-footed effort straight into Charlie Rowan. It must have hurt the young defender but he didn’t flinch. He’s a tough lad. The competitive juices are flowing when Janmaat floors Niang with a legitimate shoulder barge and then Success steams into Dja Djedje.
Niang and Success and Watson and Behrami swap teams before Frustalupi blows time on the 30-minute game. Amrabat and Deeney leave the field deep in conversation, debating whether Amrabat was right to deliver a cross to the near post or whether he should have picked out Deeney at the far stick.
Everyone goes in after working up a good sweat but Kabasele stays out to do some technical work with one of Mazzarri’s assistants. The Belgian is a good trainer.
Stefano Okaka has a heart of gold. Mazzarri has just started doing some detailed work on the plan from throw-ins when the big Italian hurdles the advertising boards and hurtles over towards the other pitch where one of the ground staff is laying prone, face down and seemingly not moving. Okaka thinks it’s an emergency and is waving over the medical staff. It turns out Perry is fixing a sprinkler head and springs to his feet when he sees Okaka hurtling towards him. Okaka’s teammates and the entire coaching staff, including Mazzarri, roll around in fits of laughter.
Such fun is the game of keep ball that goalkeeping coach De Toffol joins in. He’s not in the group where all the action is today, the group which go wild and run around high-fiving each other when Deeney pulls of an audacious nutmeg on his big pal Mariappa. He compounds Mariappa’s embarrassment by pulling his shorts down, too. Amrabat and Carl Stewart are in that group and they settle whose turn it is to play piggy in the middle with an impromptu game of rock, paper scissors.
On a more serious note, medical director Luca Gatteschi is out paying close attention to training and after sending Jose Holebas in early yesterday as a precaution, he seems concerned by Cathcart and after long consultation, the defender goes in too before the main thrust of the session starts.
Mazzarri and Frustalupi then go through a series of detailed routines from free-kicks and corners, both attacking and defending. Doucoure rattles one in on the half-volley when a loose ball breaks to him. “Lassana Diarra,” booms Troy Deeney. “Kante,” argues Success.
Doucoure, who is making the quarter-back position his own, then picks out his countryman Niang with a cross-field howitzer when the game starts. Not to be outdone, Capoue finds Niang with a similar tracer bullet of a pass. “Great ball,” applauds Amrabat.
Deeney finishes his morning’s work by slamming a penalty past Gomes but Niang doesn’t have the same luck and manages to hit both posts with the same penalty.
Niang, Okaka, Success, Capoue, Doucoure and Amrabat stay out for some shooting practise. Pantilimon, Arlauskis and Gilmartin take turns in goal. Capoue really is a classy player and he regular finds the bottom corner. He sets his standards so high that he admonishes himself when he misses. Success, the firecracker of a forward, unerringly finds the bottom corner with one effort but then blasts his next high over the netting behind the goal. The best goal is scored by Doucoure who rattles one on the half-volley past Gilmartin. “Yes, Doucs,” says Capoue as the Frenchman wheels away and celebrates like he’d scored a goal in a game.
The playful Capoue, who trains like a racehorse, stays out long after everyone has gone in and tries to clip 10 balls into the back of the net on the full. He fails, losing his nerve on both occasions on the final ball. He can’t believe it. Frustalupi has a go and fails before De Toffol shows them both how it's down by clipping every single one in on the full. Session over. Time for lunch.
“Let’s go, Miguel” barks sports scientist Erik Svendsen as Britos churns out lap after lap of the main pitch. Britos is suspended for the game against Swansea so he is getting some fitness work under his belt. “C’mon, Britos,” encourages Holebas. Prödl gives him a high-five.
Mazzarri gets stuck straight into some organisation work from defensive set-pieces. “Concentrate, this is important,” says the Head Coach in perfect English. Dja Djedje assumes the role of Swansea set-piece specialist Gylfi Sigurdsson. As the instructions move from corners to free-kicks, the demanding Gomes lines up a defensive wall as enthusiastically as if it was a live situation.
The four goalkeepers then go off to do some inventive work with De Toffol. The goalkeeping coach holds head high what can be best described as a mini trampoline while the keeper’s throw a ball at it and then athletically try and save the lively rebound. Arlauskis has the best spring of the lot.
The outfield players, meanwhile, throw themselves into a game of keep ball, their favourite part of the session. “You played Champions League,” jokes Capoue with Prödl in a dispute over who’s turn it was to play piggy in the middle. On another occasion, second-year scholar Max Ryan goes to take his place in the middle but Holebas gently pushes him out. “It’s your turn, Zuni,” says Holebas.
Amrabat is good entertainment value in these games. “Handball, handball,” he protests to Dion Pereira. “C’mon, don’t lie.” Handling the ball in this game means you are automatically in the middle, you see. Amrabat fires one overhit pass at Rhyle Ovenden. “You are not supposed to be shooting,” suggests Deeney who then asks Capoue if “you want Amrabat back in your group?” “No way,” says Capoue. “I’m happy with my new friends,” replies Amrabat.
Mazzarri then calls time on the game and summons the squad over for one final bit of shape work for the week as they go through the set-up from goal-kicks. Then it’s 11-a-side game time on a shortened pitch. There is a good tussle down one side between Holebas and Dja Djedje, while Success tries to trick his way past Amrabat before trying to run through him. “Good defending, Nordin,” praises Capoue.
Young full-back Andrew Eleftheriou does his best to simulate game conditions by tugging hard at Niang’s bib as the Frenchman tries to go past him, while Wales youth international Ovenden produces the slide-rule pass of the match to send Pereira haring down the left-flank. Mazzarri blasts his whistle for the final time of the week but some players are not done there.
Deeney takes five penalties against Arlauskis. “C’mon, Arla,” shouts Gomes. Deeney converts five out of five. Niang and Capoue take shots from distance at Gilmartin while Mazzarri issues some final detailed instructions to the defence.
Holebas finishes the week on a lighthearted note by attempting to chip the ball from distance into one of three basketball hoops. He narrowly fails but his left foot really is like a pitching wedge. Big NBA fan Capoue opts for the more conventional route and tries his luck with several three-pointers from distance. Time for a shower and then off to the team hotel.