WITH it’s views across the harbour towards the historic city of Valletta and pleasant waterfront strolls along The Strand, Sliema seems an unlikely place to prepare oneself for combat.
But the idyllic ambiance masks a brutal reality.
Behind the sun-bleached walls of the Fortina Spa Hotel, perched on a craggy outcrop in one of Malta’s most desirable towns, Danny Wilson and his players are steeling themselves for a campaign which promises to shape Sheffield United’s future not only next season but also beyond.
“When you come away and spent 24 hours in each other’s company it can be quite claustrophobic,” the manager admitted. “You get to find out about the individuals you work as people as well as players.
“But that’s just as important as getting out there on the training pitch and getting on with the footballing side of things.
“If you are going to achieve anything in this game then you need to have a good camaraderie behind the scenes.
“You’ll do nothing - or very little, at least - without it.
“We’ll be spending a lot of time in each other’s company when the matches proper get under way and so we’ve got to get along and trust one another.
“The coaching staff and myself are finding out about them and, of course, the lads themselves are finding out about us.”
Despite surrendering their Championship status in disappointing fashion last term, United are nevertheless expected to mount a strong challenge for promotion over the coming months.
Wilson returned to England yesterday to attend his daughter’s graduation - “Family is something you can’t ignore no matter what the circumstances” - but the former Northern Ireland international boarded the flight to Manchester encouraged by what he has witnessed since arriving on the island last week.
“The lads have knuckled down ever so well over here,” said Wilson. “And, believe me, it’s been very demanding in the heat.
“There is still a lot of work to be done but we’re making good progress.
“They have responded really well to the ideas that we are trying to put across the them and that’s been good to see.
“The players are very receptive.”
Wilson’s assistant, Frank Barlow, will oversee the final game of United’s tour against Hibernians tomorrow after remaining on the island.
Recent acquisitions such as Lecsinel Jean-Francois, Chris Porter and Ryan Flynn are expected to feature as next month’s League One opener against Oldham Athletic moves ever closer.
However, speculation about Ched Evans’ future continues to rage amid suggestions that Ipswich Town are monitoring his situation in South Yorkshire.
Middlesbrough, Leicester and Cardiff are also known to be keen.
“We’ve started to feel as if we’re putting our mark on things now,” said Wilson. “The most important work we’ve been doing is out there on the training pitch because we’ve started to see things take shape.
“I’ve been in the job two months now but this is the first proper week I’ve had day in and day out with everyone and I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been invaluable really.”