Long considered the calm before the storm as the Premier League soon descends into chaos with only a matter of games remaining, it seems like every club has taken the opportunity presented by the league calendar this February for a much needed half-term, mid-season break. In a month where Ryanair announced that profits have slid because of a weakened pound and air travel in general has suffered recently as a result of Doris and her stormy exploits, escaping the last of the British winter weather seems to have been on every club’s with what appears like more Premier League teams than ever before sifting out their passports and printing off their boarding passes for a week in the sun. Clearly a contrast between the players often pictured relaxing on the beach with family and friends come the end of the footballing season, instead the likes of West Ham United, Manchester City and Liverpool to name only three have whisked their players away to warmer temperatures for intense training sessions and team-building more than any form of R&R.
At the very top of the Premier League table, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and the Merseyside pairing of Everton and Liverpool all made most of the opportunity presented by a lull in the league schedule to train both much further afield and in much sunnier climates. Whilst Liverpool opted for La Manga, Spain for “another preseason”, making use of their lengthy break due to their FA Cup exit last month by hosting a mid-season training camp, their high-flying cross city rivals spent five nights in Dubai with the aim of being able to reap the future rewards for the rest of the current league season and beyond. Evidently both new managers can see the long-term benefits of a foreign training trip, although not forgetting that former manager Roberto Martinez also took his Everton team to Dubai last season as well as Qatar the previous season.
Likewise as has become a common occurrence since the club’s 2008 takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group, Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City squad, fresh off the back of an impressive 5-3 comeback victory over AS Monaco in the UEFA Champions League had checked in less than 24 hours later and quickly swapped the City Football Academy for the luxurious training facilities in the grounds of the five-star Emirates Palace Hotel. Rather than merely sitting by watching Manchester United become the noisy neighbours permitting they lift the EFL Cup by beating Southampton, a rare free weekend freed up by Mourinho’s sides’ progression in the cup competition meant that instead of preparing for the third meeting of both clubs this season, conversely Pep Guardiola and his City stars were able to train together in the blue skies of Abu Dhabi; a trip allowing the club to reunite with, or in Guardiola’s case meet club owner Sheikh Mansour on his home soil.
Of course if it’s not all gone to plan for a Premier League club, in many ways a bit like a parent petulantly punishing a young child by saying they’re not allowed to go out with friends at weekend for not tidying their room, then the holiday (sorry mid-season training break) is off. Crystal Palace, albeit rewarded recently with a week away after a run of good form as it finally comes good for former England boss Sam Allardyce at the London Club, were told earlier on in the season to forget any chances of a trip away unless performances buck up thick and fast. Whether Allardyce or indeed his players ever fully unpacked of course remains a mystery but with things on the up, this further illustrates an increasing tendency especially in England to whisk players abroad for longer term gain in the league. Unlike Palace however, David Moyes and his struggling Sunderland side took the opposite approach by embarking on a February trip to New York not only aimed at bringing the squad closer together in what is always a difficult period of the season with squad togetherness paramount, but with the overall aim of it having a positive effect upon their return to England… how well that has gone to plan remains to be seen but so far, no so good for The Black Cats.
Nonetheless up and down the Premier League, clubs are swapping a mid-season lull on home turf for a trip away to much warmer climates and with what appears more teams than ever opting to do so, can we simply say it’s just a sign of the times and increasing amount of money in the modern-games or should warm weather training camps and their benefits be taken even more seriously by perhaps clubs in lower tiers given that it’s such a phenomenon in the English top flight?
Hull City opting for Portugal, Middlesbrough swapped North Yorkshire for Marbella whilst Stoke City and West Ham United followed in the footsteps of both Manchester City and Everton and chose Abu Dhabi as their mid-season destination. To the contrary, whilst the likes of Swansea City opted against going away in favour of staying at their revamped training facility in Fairwood alongside Arsenal who simply decided it just wasn’t for them, perhaps signs are already there that more and more clubs from the lower leagues will follow even more in the footsteps of those above them after Plymouth Argyle jetted out to Spain for a warm-weather camp in Southern Spain. With both promotion and league title ambitions in League Two, only time will tell whether it will pay off in the long term but given that manager Derek Adams has commented on the psychological impact such a mid-season trip away has had on his players in allowing them to enjoy the sunshine and train with better facilities as well as providing a valuable opportunity for players to get to know each other more including those who have just joined the club, it would be somewhat unsurprising to see what is already a growing trend continue to escalate in the next few years.
All managers, players and coaching staff will go on record to say that a warm-weather training camp most certainly has its benefits and few negatives ever seem to come from such an experience. Whether that be in terms of team-building, improving squad fitness or allowing players to just train consistently without fear of calling train off due to bad wind, rain, snow or sleet, whilst mid-season training sessions may seem like clubs vying to get away at the first available opportunity, many an ex-pro has gone on record to comment just how challenging and incredibly intense warm-weather training camps can be. The jury is still out as to whether they actually help banish a team’s demons in the long term but in the short-term at least, some may see it as a fad, a trend, a popular spell that many clubs appear to be jumping on the bandwagon with, but given its numerous plaudits maybe the future of football could largely depend on whether a club does or doesn’t end up in Spain or Abu Dhabi in February, as opposed to their home training complex.