Sheffield United: The method behind the Terror Tuesday madness
They knew it was coming. Those unfortunate enough to have experienced it before had explained what might happen. Terror Tuesday. Twenty-four hours when Sheffield United's players are pushed, physically and mentally, to their absolute limits.
Phil Jagielka and new record signing Luke Freeman experienced their first taste of what has now become a Bramall Lane tradition earlier this week, when Chris Wilder's squad completed a series of gruelling training exercises in the Portuguese heat. Circuits, shuttle runs and relay races, all performed under the watchful eyes of the 51-year-old and his band of coaching staff.
Footage of the event, which was staged at United's training base in Vale do Lobo, has spread like a virus across social media. Indeed it was the club, eager to demonstrate the effort Wilder's charges are putting into their Premier League preparations, which first published the videos on their own official channels. But assistant manager Alan Knill, who helped Wilder devise the punishing programme, provided the most illuminating insight into the thinking - and the point - of this brutal exercise.
"We've done it ever since we've worked together," he said. "Chris wants one day when he really takes the lads out of their comfort zone. A day that says to them 'This is going to be tough. What are you going to do about it?'
"They know it's coming. They know it's going to be difficult. You can sense the mood among them changing when it's on the horizon."
Aware they are often portrayed as a team fuelled by heart, character and desire, United have gone to great lengths in recent months to describe how science has also been applied behind the scenes during their rise through the divisions. Wilder makes no attempt to disguise his frustration - actually make that annoyance - when sections of the media ignore the technical prowess of the squad he has constructed and focus on its sheer bloody-mindedness instead. The former defender feels, quite understandably, it does his charges little justice.
So in a sense, making such a mighty big deal about the most taxing day on United's pre-season calendar could be viewed as a risk. But rather than undermining the manager's efforts to re-write some of the narrative surrounding last term's promotion from the Championship, Knill, aided and abetted by United's communications department, actually helped strengthen Wilder's argument.
Rather than being a test of endurance, Terror Tuesday helps him build a series of detailed and in-depth psychological profiles.
"Okay, there's not a lot of science involved in this particular bit," Knill admitted. "Really, it's a case of running around until you are told to stop. We know some of the lads are better runners than others. Bash (Chris Basham) for example is unbelievable. If you're chasing someone like him then, trust me, that is going to be tough because he just keeps on going and going."
"But the results aren't really the important thing," Knill continued. "We'fe not really looking at who comes where, how fast they are, or anything like that. What it tells us is how people react in difficult situations. It shows who is going to keep on going, keep on pushing, when their backs are up against it."
A veteran of more pre-season trips than he probably cares to remember, Knill also acknowledged that Terror Tuesday helps break the monotony of this sometimes boring but vitally important work.
"There is no hiding place in pre-season any more, the former Rotherham and Wales centre-half, said. "Pre-season has changed so much. When I played, we never saw a ball for two weeks.
"Now, we see it on the first day. It's a case of get the testing done and then straight into the footballs. But then we always have something like Tuesday in it.
"Pre-season is tough. There is no getting away from that. The repetition of getting up and training, playing, without three points involved, that can be difficult. This keeps people on their toes and out of what might become a bit of a routine."
United, who face Real Betis in a friendly at The Algarve Stadium on Friday, celebrated the end of Terror Tuesday by announcing that Wilder had agreed a new contract. Knill, who together with head of recruitment Paul Mitchell and coach Matt Prestridge has been by his side throughout their climb from League One to the top-flight, is expected to follow suit shortly.
"It's brilliant that the contract got sorted, it was important for the club to get the manager done," he said. "He is the leader. He has brought back an identity to the club, which was obviously needed. Now, he signs a new contract.
"He was manager of the year, he got us promoted - that means there are suitors out there for you. That puts everything to bed."
"We can now get on with the job and look forward to our first season in the Premier League," he added. "
We are a team as a staff. Chris and myself figurehead it but there is a lot goes on. We are a tight group and I think that is reflected in the players. Their group is close and ours is equally the same."