Later this morning, when breakfast is over and their belongings have been unpacked, Sheffield United’s players and coaching staff will gather inside a conference room at the team’s Portuguese hotel.
The meeting is not scheduled to last long. The mood, as Chris Wilder delivers a short address, is expected to be focused rather than funereal. But, as one of his squad’s most senior members reveals, those brief few moments are designed to set the tone for what the manager and his team hope will be a promotion winning season.
“We know we’re having a get-together,” Chris Basham explained. “It’s when the gaffer sets us our targets. There won’t be many or anything too complicated. What he will do, though, is let us know what he expects and how we go about achieving it.”
Wilder, as Basham’s insight confirms, is no great orator. The 50-year-old subscribes to the theory that less really is more. But, although there will be no mention of philosophies, DNA or any of the other ridiculous phrases which excite footballing hipsters, those in attendance will leave the sparsely appointed suite knowing exactly what he demands. In terms of performance, results and, perhaps most importantly, professional attitude. It is a style Basham, speaking before boarding United’s flight to Europe admitted, suits Bramall Lane down to the ground.
“Every manager is different,” he said. “There’s no right or wrong I suppose but the gaffer now is really down to earth and tells it like it is. He know what he wants and he tells us. No margin for doubt is left or there. The thing is, however, he doesn’t just talk at us. He asks our opinion on things as well.”
“That’s good because there’s good communication,” Basham continued. “We’ve got plenty of experienced pro’s here, lads who know what they need to be doing and, to be honest, because we can contribute it gives us ownership of what we do.”
Despite his brief lapse into ‘Brendan Rodgers speak’, Basham responds to Wilder’s methods. Signed by Nigel Clough, he has nevertheless produced the best performances of his career under the present incumbent. Nigel Adkins, sandwiched in between those notoriously straight-talking individuals, preferred to convey his message with powerpoint presentations and videos. It is therefore instructive, in a city built on the sweat and toil and tears of heavy industry, he sank without trace.
United have travelled to The Algarve for warm weather training and Thursday’s friendly against Maritimo. Their summer schedule, which began at Stocksbridge Park Steels on Friday evening, is also heavily weighted towards down to earth games, although a forthcoming meeting with Internazionale provides a nod towards commercialism. The opponents - Bradford City, Doncaster Rovers and Mansfield Town - were not chosen by accident. Earlier this year, Wilder outlined the danger of arranging too many meetings with top-flight clubs and folly of prioritising pounds over proper preparation.
“Listen,” he said, “There’s a point to pre-season and that’s to get in shape and geared-up for the challenges you’re going to face. I don’t see any point in spending the entire period chasing around after the ball and watching it get pinged here there and everywhere. You want to get used to it again, get your touch back and, if you never have it or rarely have it, that’s not going to happen quickly is it?”
“I prefer to face people who are going to give you a game, who are going to be committed and who want to try and beat you because that gets the competitive edge back. If you’re not facing Premier League sides week in week out, then what’s the point in doing that now? None, that’s the answer. It’s good to come up against different ideas and different approaches but, by and large, we try to replicate the type of situations we think we’ll be in as much as we possibly can.”
Vale do Lobo, where United are based for the six days, has little in common with Swansea, Stoke and the other places Wilder’s side will visit next term. A purpose built resort in Portugal’s Golden Triangle, it is famous for its sandy beach and golf courses; not copper or pottery production. Placed into receivership following 1974’s Carnation Revolution, which removed the ultra conservative Estado Novo regime from power, Vale de Lobo is now owned by a consortium of overseas investors and the state owned Caixa Geral de Depósitos bank. But United will have little time to sample the delights it has to offer because, Basham acknowledged, they are there to work.
“Going away with the lads is always good because it brings us all together again. As everybody knows, the team spirit here is really strong, it’s a really tight knit group, so it’s nice to all be as one again. Away from a lot of distractions, we can concentrate on getting ourselves ready and putting a good fitness base in place. The match will be good because it breaks things up and will see us come up against a different style; you can always pick up ideas in situations like that. We enjoy each others company and yes, although we’ll no doubt enjoy ourselves on the odd occasion, it feels good to be back. When you’re away, it helps any new faces fit in.”
United have so far welcomed just one into the fold as Wilder emphasises quality over quantity in this summer’s transfer window. Goalkeeper Dean Henderson, signed on a season long loan from Manchester United, is expected to be joined by two centre-forwards and a centre-half before next month’s deadline.
“Dean was a bit quiet as you’d expect when he came in,” Basham said. “But he’s really come out of his shell over the last few days and he’s a confident lad which is really good.”