The changing face of pre-season as Sheffield United prepare for new season under Slavisa Jokanovic

As a striker who began his professional career in the 1980s and hung up his boots over 20 years later, Brian Deane saw the cultural shift in pre-season training first hand and can still remember the days when senior professionals had a word with their younger teammates to take it a little easier when it came to those dreaded cross-country runs to shake off any summer excess.

Sunday, 27th June 2021, 12:00 pm

“We would come in and barely see a ball for days or weeks,” Deane said. He was part of the Sheffield United side taken to army camps by the former Blades boss Dave Bassett and it’s fair to say that United’s current crop of players won’t be put through similar character-building exercises when they return properly for pre-season training next week.

It isn’t just on the grass that things are different in 2021. All United’s players underwent Covid-19 testing before reporting back properly to Shirecliffe, where Slavisa Jokanović will join them later in the week when he starts his new role officially, after many of them jetted away on their summer breaks.

Some didn’t bother; Aaron Ramsdale was planning a summer at his house in Bournemouth before being called up to the England squad for the Euros, and will be allowed to report back for pre-season later as a result. As will United’s other representatives on international duty this summer.

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Pre-season training methods have altered over the years, but it is still hard work: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Pre-season training methods have altered over the years, but it is still hard work: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Others cut short their downtime to prepare for pre-season. George Baldock was pictured working with a personal trainer in sunnier climes, while Jack O’Connell looked more like a heavyweight boxer than a centre-half as he pounded the pads out in Dubai. How important these next few months may be for him.

The biggest change in pre-season over the years is probably the individuality of programmes; long gone are the days when goalkeepers were subjected to the same drills as a striker. Players are constantly monitored with GPS monitors worn on vests, so there is no hiding place for them, and pre-season may have got smarter but it certainly isn’t much easier – Chris Wilder, the former United manager, used to put his players through a dreaded Terror Tuesday session which was designed to test them to their very limit, both physically and mentally.

United have plans in place for their pre-season schedule, which were set up by former interim boss Paul Heckingbottom before Jokanović’s arrival, and have yet to publicly confirm whether they will travel abroad before the new campaign begins, at home to Birmingham City.

Some members of United’s hierarchy are known to favour the club remaining in the UK in the age of Covid-19 and countries on ever-changing amber and green lists, but the importance of going away could be higher than ever as they get to grips with the new methods of their first-ever overseas manager.

After officially starting on July 1, the new manager will schedule talks with those members of his squad who have been linked with moves away this summer. Despite believing that this United squad is the strongest he has ever inherited at a club, Jokanović will assess his players in person before making any definitive decisions in the transfer market.

Much to do, then, in the five weeks or so before the start of a season so vital.