To the untrained eye, pre-season matches are all about loosening limbs, working up a sweat and getting back into the groove after the excesses of summer, writes James Shield.
But, as Neill Collins explained ahead of tomorrow’s friendly with Mansfield Town, Sheffield United’s first-team squad have compiled a much more complex set of objectives.
Yes, the centre-half acknowledged, improving fitness is important. Winning is always nice.
However, as preparations for the new League One campaign approach endgame, he revealed why results at this time of year are the least of a professional footballer’s worries.
“It’s important to get sharp and put the hard yards in,” Collins told The Star. “And you never want to lose either but, believe me, that’s not the only thing we look to get out of our games and training sessions right now.
“Because the fixtures come so thick and fast when competition starts, this might be the only time of the year when the manager and his staff have nearly everyone fit and available. That’s why there’s no better time to work on how we plan to play, the different tactics and formations we might use, than now.
“Doing that gets harder and harder as the season goes on for various reasons. It’s not impossible but you get much more value out of doing it as this point in time.
“There’s very little time between matches when the real stuff starts - it’s often Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday - so time is limited.”
Together with assistants Lee Carsley and Adam Owen, manager David Weir has also used United’s first four outings under his tutelage to discover more about the options at his disposal with new signing Lyle Taylor poised to feature at Field Mill.
“The gaffer and his staff are going to be using this time to find out more about us,” Collins continued. “Not just about what we can do, what we’re good at and what we’re not, but also about what we’re like as characters.
“And the same is going on in the dressing room too. From a player’s perspective, going away somewhere, like we did in Scotland, is invaluable because it helps all of the lads who have just arrived to bed in.
“We find out a lot about each other too. You find out which of your team mates are prepared to go that extra mile by playing through an injury for example.”
United head to Nottinghamshire still unbeaten since returning to action at Greenock Morton 17 days ago. That 1-0 win was followed by a draw with Cowndebeath and victories of Raith Rovers and Bury.
Weir’s charges are set to face Atromisos FC of the Greek Superleague and York City ahead of next month’s League One opener against Notts County while United yesterday announced a trip to Alfreton (July 22) has also been shoe-horned into their schedule.
According to Bramall Lane officials, Weir is expected to select “a mixture of youth and experience” at The Impact Arena.
In a marked departure from previous years, all of United’s work during pre-season has been football based while players have also shied away from making dramatic pronouncements in the media about how they will perform next term.
Collins, aged 29, said: “The older you get and the longer you’re in this business, the more you realise everything that pre-season is about.
“It’s a process, with lots of different parts, that is designed to build towards something. It’s hard work but it stands you in good stead when things get underway.”