Sweat, Peter Crouch and a Victorian headmaster – a few days in the Algarve with Sheffield Wednesday
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It was an hour or so into their Thursday morning training session and after the previous evening’s plans had been scrapped due to the affects of a nearby forest fire of all things – mad things seem to follow this football club around a touch, after all – spirits were high and things were going well.
The focus seemed to be on moving the ball quickly. A drill watched over by first team coach Simon Ireland centred on the playing of ‘bounce passes’, light touches and a lot of movement.
The Wednesday squad had been split into two and a separate drill was presided over by Jamie Smith. If Smith maybe comes over a little meek and mild in post-match interviews, he’s anything but on the training ground. He’s vocal, dominant and has the respect of the squad in the palm of his hand.
Wayne Jacobs strolled between the two set-ups and passed on words of encouragement.
The fact is you’d have done well to spot Darren Moore, sat out of the way to the left, silently watching his charges while he nurses the continued comeback of his knee injury.
Fingers locked to his chin, deep in thought, a passer-by would have done well to point the Wednesday gaffer out as the man in charge.
And then came the moment.
A miscontrolled ball, a momentary whinge from a player and the breakdown of Ireland’s drill. Darren Moore, all six-foot-loads and lots of muscle, rose from his chair and spoke not with raised tones, not with anger, but with the quiet authority of a Victorian headmaster.
The Wednesday squad, made up of internationals and senior pros and those with a sprinkling of Premier League experience, were the schoolchildren as the training ground fell silent.
A few words, message delivered, message understood. And the quality of that first touch – through the eyes of a dumpy football reporter not half bad in the first place, by the way – was instantly improved.
It was a theme followed throughout the sun-baked session and throughout the week. Standards were drilled high and work rates higher, with double and triple sessions put in place to ‘front load’ the players’ bodies in preparation for the season ahead.
The Star were gracefully given access to that session and more during a whirlwind and surreal three days in Portugal that featured the most random of cameos from boxing superstar Dillian Whyte – training at the same complex at the Owls – and Peter Crouch, who watched their Friday friendly against Bournemouth for a reason we’re not yet entirely sure of.
Such open media access to such weeks is seldom bothered with at some clubs, but Wednesday could not have been more obliging.
Outside of the sweat-soaked training, Wednesday players seemed relaxed and at ease in each other’s company, whether shooting hoops on the basketball court or nipping into the on-site sports bar for a chinwag and an hour’s eyes on The Open.
The new players appear comfortable and the week’s interviewees exuding quiet confidence.
And with strong-and-silent Darren Moore watching over things, rising from his chair when the time is right, things appear to be moving sternly in the right direction.
The show starts in a fortnight. Buckle up.