After all the hours of planning and organisation, it was finally time to head Stateside for the pre-season training camp in Florida.
We waved goodbye to the dozens of kit bags, meticulously prepared by Dan Smith the club kit man, as they went into the depths of Gatwick Airport.
The tireless work by everyone behind the scenes meant the journey was smooth and the near ten-hour flight passed by until we reached the Sunshine State. The sheer humidity greeted us as soon as we stepped off the plane and gave the players an insight into what was in-store out on the training pitch.
The hotel accommodating for the group during the stay is set in an idyllic location near the bay in Sarasota, providing a beautiful backdrop for an evening session in the swimming pool for the players to stretch out their weary legs from travelling and ensure they are ready for the hard work to begin in the morning.
Tuesday – America’s Independence Day – began bright and early down at the beach. With the warm weather slowly seeping in, the players limbered up with some flexibility and core exercises to set them up for the first session.
Breakfast followed in the boathouse back at the hotel before the short trip to the IMG Academy to begin the hard work. The facilities are truly exceptional, providing the squad with the perfect preparation for what is set to be a long season.
The morning session began with warm-ups then some pass-and-move drills led by Mark Warburton and David Weir. The heat was tough to work in but the players dug deep to work through it and were encouraged to take on fluids regularly by the team’s medical staff in the humid Florida heat.
The goalkeepers were put through their paces by goalkeeping coach Jim Stewart, with Stephen Henderson taking part in full training after his lengthy injury lay-off.
The final part of the session involved some small-sided matches, with the players lining up in three-on-three contests before training ended and it was time for lunch.
A short trip across part of the 500-acre site to the IMG Golf Club provided the setting for lunch as the squad refuelled ahead of a session in the gym in the afternoon.
The fantastic gym has dozens of stations for weights, cardio and core exercises and strength and conditioning coach Chris Thorpe got the players working on all different aspects before some time off in the afternoon to recover.
Some players returned to the beach for the afternoon sun while others explored Downtown Sarasota. After dinner, the town was lit up for the Fourth of July fireworks display, with the downtown area heaving with locals celebrating their national holiday.
After the early evening festivities ended, it was time to call it a night with a gruelling session lined up on Wednesday.