La Manga Diary: Day Four

by Daniel Alston in La Manga, Spain. @efc_danalston

Scorching sun without a cloud in the bluest of blue skies. Perfect postcard weather.
 
The outlook for day four was not so idyllic for our Under-23s, however, and after the exertions of the previous 24 hours, there seemed little to write home about but hard work.
 
But their efforts so far this week had not gone unnoticed, as would be discovered later in the day.
 
First up though, in this intense and unforgiving heat, was that now-familiar ride to the training pitches. Myself and @efc_cameraman, Phil Winrow for this camp, jumped in with the goalkeepers at 9.30am to discover more about their daily pre-season routine.
 
As mentioned earlier in the week, their coach Andy Fairman makes them train longer than the outfield players and while there will be little running in comparison, they more than make up for it with diving and agility work.
 
So after a gentle stretch which involved some uncomfortable-looking shoulder exercises, it was on to reflex work among the quartet; a short game of badminton minus the racquets and a drill involving saving from three different angles in quick succession, each time getting back up as quickly as possible to deny someone scoring in the two small goals placed behind - the last strike being a tennis ball hit at full force by Fairman.
 
The sweat was already dripping - and I had barely trotted out from the shade. Opportune plug for the new training wear by the way - light and comfortable. Big fan of the bright yellow range the players have been sporting, too.
 
Our mobile devices registered a temperature of 28 degrees Celsius, but we were informed it will actually have been far higher as the weather station recording this was some distance away and in a different setting. The lack of a breeze today meant there was little opportunity to cool down either.


Leading by example, David Unsworth had been on the pitch from 9am - an hour before his players would arrive - meticulously laying out the key drill of the day across the entire surface. Dribbling, close control and travelling with the ball the main elements, as well as a series of closely-assembled hurdles to navigate; two opportunities to finish a lay-off ended each half of the circuit. The goalkeepers had been evidently readied, as Mateusz Hewelt, Louis Gray and Chris Renshaw all pulled stunning stops out of the bag, but a cheeky chip from fit-again Luke Garbutt and an arrowing shot from Harry Charsley gave them little chance.
 
Dinner at 1.30pm offered up an assortment of chicken and fish portions, noodles, salad, soup… I could go on - the food has been top-notch all week. Perfect in nutrition and full of all the right stuff for professional athletes, as Club chef Chris Lomas was on hand to ensure. Today even provided a giant dish of paella. When in Rome, as they say…
 
And then came the moment. One that received more applause than Kieran Dowell’s goal for the first team had drawn from the same group the evening before. Unsworth stood up as if to make a toast. John Ebbrell, he said, had suggested to him that as a result of their unwavering effort this week and particularly in the conditions earlier, an afternoon off had been earned. The lads’ faces lit up, a chant of ‘Ebbo! Ebbo!’ flooded the room and they left to enjoy the rest of the day however they saw fit.


A simple gesture from the manager and his assistant - the two operate in tandem so well - but one they were only too happy to give as a result of the high standards being met. The squad already know the value of working hard, but added bonuses like this can do morale and team bonding no harm. They strive to do their best for themselves, but also each other. Nobody has let the side down this week. Not one player has given anything less than 100 per cent. It’s been fascinating to see that effort close hand - it never ceases to amaze even after three previous pre-season trips with this age group.
 
New signing Josh Bowler stayed behind to undergo his first interview with evertontv. A polite and friendly lad who has caught the eye in a few sessions this week with his pace, trickery and gifted left foot, he spoke about how his arrival at Everton came about and how he has been helped to settle in by some of the younger lads. One of those, Morgan Feeney, also stayed back for a catch-up with the camera, so look out for both of those online in due course.
 
So, what to do with the afternoon off, then? A few groups took advantage of the facility’s shuttle bus to head down to the village, others bathed by the pool - the sun still beaming down. Harry Charsley, Antonee Robinson, Conor Grant and a few other keen golfers opted for the driving range. Now that’s a sport suited to this sort of weather.
 
As I write this ahead of the evening meal, I have been warned I will be dragged into the fabled tradition among football squads to perform an initiation song. I may or may not write about this experience tomorrow, but I don’t expect it to go well.
 
Day five tomorrow - and it’s what is referred to as ‘Matchday Minus One’. An 11am kick-off against Hull City Under-23s on Saturday will be a good summer test for the champions, so Friday is all about preparation.
 
The lads certainly look ready.


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