Inside Camp: Blues Crank Up Intensity At Lake Geneva

Lake Geneva provided an idyllic backdrop as Everton’s first pre-season under manager Sean Dyche and his staff ramped up — but don’t be fooled by the tranquil surroundings. 

This was five days’ worth of solid fitness work and sharpening tools to help prepare the Blues for the rigours of the competitive campaign that lies ahead.

There were laughs along the way. Plenty of them. From Dwight McNeil and Alex Iwobi’s hesitancy to get wet during a team bonding rafting exercise to Francis Okoronwko’s 10-second dance in front of the whole squad as a training forfeit, as the players spent every waking hour with one another.

While hard work was, of course, the purpose of this trip, the positivity and team spirit in camp was palpable.

Évian-les-Bains, on the French side of the water, was the Blues’ base for the majority of the week. A quiet, relaxed town with a population of approximately 10,000 people, where the water becomes the centrepiece in the summer and nearby mountains for skiing become the focal point in the colder months.

Everton weren’t the first to use this facility. Leicester City have been frequent visitors in recent years and so, too, Liverpool, while Dyche himself completed a similar trip during his time with Burnley. Germany’s national team also privatised a significant chunk of the area during their Euro 2016 campaign, where they reached the semi-finals before being eliminated by host nation France, reserving the sister hotel to where the Toffees resided, as well as the same training pitches.

There were double sessions most days, with a focus on building confidence, sharpness and fighting through fatigue. The manager’s by now well-known saying: ‘The minimum requirement is maximum effort’ remains the foundation of every drill.

The atmosphere and feedback from Dyche, Assistant Manager Ian Woan and First-Team Coach Steve Stone provided fascinating insight throughout, with the trio’s ideals constantly fed into the players throughout training sessions.

As per all pre-season camps, younger players came along and were encouraged to embed themselves from the outset, with coach Stone insisting they “demand the ball from the senior pros” in one particular drill while enjoying the experience, as the first training session got under way in 32°C heat on a glorious evening in the south of France.

The first of two sessions on the second day saw intensity levels cranked up. The variation impressive; the cycle of football-based work then fitness relentless. 

“The days of just running around fields has all gone,” Dyche told evertontv. “There will be some element of that but it’s mainly science-based now. You can do that through football work and through running as well and it’s about finding that healthy balance. It’s always designed for the players to be stronger.”

The players and staff made the short trip from the team hotel to the training pitches via bicycles throughout the week, with McNeil declaring the thought of cycling long distances too tough to comprehend, before, ironically, steaming through a period of continuous shuttle runs with apparent ease.

There were bangs and blisters by the end of a competitive but rewarding and highly-valuable session and, as the players turned to ice towels or baths to begin their recovery, James Tarkowski insisted, “I’m used to it!” as he made his way back to the team hotel.

Competitiveness was another prevalent theme of the sessions. Underlined when, following a four-team tournament of five-a-side, Neal Maupay insisted on a penalty shootout to separate the two teams tied for first place — one his side would go on to win.

A team barbecue, which took place a short drive away from the team’s HQ, provided a change of scenery for the players and staff, as well as another opportunity to socialise in a relaxed environment, with popular Men's Senior Sports Therapist, Craig Yuill, providing an eclectic playlist for the early evening get-together.

Then came a new addition to the group, as Ashley Young was confirmed as Dyche’s first-ever signing as Everton manager.

The experienced winger-turned-full-back, who was captained by Dyche when he broke through at Watford as a teenager, pointed to his belief in the boss’ passion and methods and the stature of the Club as reasons to why he couldn’t turn down the opportunity.

He quickly integrated into the group, already knowing Jordan Pickford from the pair’s time together with England — Young played left wing-back behind Pickford as the Three Lions reached the World Cup semi-finals 2018 — as well as friend Alex Iwobi and other familiar faces from the squad.

Training continued to come thick and fast until a move around the lake and across the border into Switzerland on Friday morning.

Stade Nyonnais hosted Everton at their Centre sportif de Colovray, which has to be one of Europe’s most picturesque stadiums with Lake Geneva and the snow-capped Mont Blanc in view from the main stand.

On the pitch was a chance for the players to get back into “game mode”, with Dyche insisting the scoreline was “irrelevant” at such an early stage of pre-season, following a 2-1 win courtesy of a maiden senior goal for Katia Kouyate and penalty from Neal Maupay.

The Toffees now head back to Merseyside to continue their preparations, with Dyche, who still has internationals James Garner, Jarrad Branthwaite and Demarai Gray to welcome back, warning his players to be ready for a testing first half of this week in order to complete the process of locking in the core work of fitness.

Following that, focus will gently switch towards more tactical and technical facets of Dyche’s plan, alongside five more friendlies ahead of the Premier League opener against Fulham at Goodison Park on Saturday 12 August.

Plenty of hard work lies ahead, but this was an ideal start to Dyche’s first pre-season as Everton manager.