Day 5 of our pre-season trip to Portugal and our behind the scenes diary continues.
The training pitch here at Colina Verde is a five minute stroll along a dirt track to the side of the hotel. There is one main pitch and a small area for the goalkeepers to train on. By the time I arrive the players are already past their warm up and tearing into another ferociously paced training session. I have no idea how they can do this; it is 9.20 but the merciless sun is already frying any foolish patch of skin that escaped sun block.
Pep Clotet relishes the training pitches and has introduced a number of new drills for the players to try. Now, five days into this trip, they are more familiar with what is required and their movement is more natural. Up close you begin to see how good the control and technique actually is. Chris Allen and Derek Fazackerley run further drills and there are individual chats and advice as required.
There is then a little down time back at the hotel while players have some deserved rest. The rooms are cool and even the incessant clacking of the table tennis ceases for a while. Pep conducts a Q&A session with the media then it’s lunch time and after some serous yamming there is a spot of pool time or a hack around the nine hole golf course. Golf balls are strictly rationed: Ryan Ledson has significantly reduced the number of golf balls available to the group, unless you are a frogman.
5.30 is training session two for the day, mostly gym work in the subterranean workout area. The keepers, a special breed, head for the baked pitch. 45 minutes later the returning Wayne Brown says ‘Got some good pictures for you Chris. Too hot. We trained in our pants.” The mind boggles. Then the squad, by now all fully clothed, gather to watch a film but we don’t want to intrude so go out to dinner in a nearby town. There are no tables available outside so we are ushered into a marble room that could double as the town mortuary. We are frazzled and tired and if they would only pull out one of the drawers I think I would happily have a little lie down. Meanwhile in nearby Albufeira the fans, who never sleep, are in full party mood. They have had a brilliant week and even more Oxford fans are flying in for the weekend including one of the infamous OUFC tea ladies: how many teams bring their tea lady on tour with them?
We are back at the training base by 11, dodging the non-stop roulette fun of the sprinkler system that almost completely misses the parched golf course while simultaneously drenching our balcony. All through the night I can hear it swishing against the windows, so it is a surprise to find no water in the taps or toilets when we get up the next day. All part of the fun and out of the hotel's control- they have been great hosts and the problem is across the area rather than down to them
Saturday is our last full day and this morning will see some set piece training and then a gradual increase in adrenaline and focus before we set off for the Ferreiras Stadium at 4pm. It has been a good week but everything builds towards the matches and I can’t wait to see the U’s take on the Tigers. The water comes back just in time: Head shaved. Game face on. #Positivevibez