Update from Royals boss on pre-season tourAfter a long flight, a couple of hot and sticky training sessions, a very busy press conference and a river cruise last night, we caught up with Royals boss Steve Clarke from the team’s base out in Bangkok. Here are his unedited thoughts on the trip so far, the condition of the squad, the match against the Thailand All Star side tomorrow evening and more…
It’s been a fantastic welcome out here in Thailand and a good first couple of days hasn’t it Steve?
Yes it’s been really good. Any time you go to visit a foreign country, you have to go there open-minded and look to enjoy the experience. Ever since we got here, the people haven’t been able to do enough for us. They’ve looked after us really well. The day yesterday was long after all the travel, and there’s always the danger that you get a little bit short tempered and the day drags out too long. But it was a really good day and I think the boys enjoyed it right through to the cruise down the river last night, which was a really nice occasion.
But we expected that. We came here knowing that this is a big deal for the owners. They bought the club at the very start of the season itself last year, after pre-season, so this is the first opportunity they’ve had to bring their club out to their own country. And they want it to be really good. So far it has lived up to all expectations.
You’ve trained a couple of times out here now. How has it been?
The heat is a challenge, but it’s more the humidity. It drains you. Even if you’re not taking part in the sessions, you only have to walk outside and immediately you start sweating. So you can imagine for the players, you can multiply that by 100. These are the conditions that the lads are training in and one or two of them are suffering a little bit in the heat and humidity. But by and large the group is in good shape. The ones who managed to get some work done before we came here are obviously in better shape than the ones who have just joined us – that’s something I’ll have to manage this week to make sure we don’t pick up any knocks and niggles that we don’t need to. It’s a balancing act. You need them to work, but you don’t need to drain the energy out of them. That has to be the balance this week.
It’s quite simple. They have to work hard when they train, and they’ll get the benefit from that in the long run. They won’t get a short term benefit because they’ll always feel tired. But the most important part out here, that I’ve found from my experiences out in this type of country, is the recovery. They have to learn to come back to the hotel, chill out in their rooms, not feel as though they have to go outside, no lying in the sun, because the heat just drains you. So they have to come back, recover well, eat well and get plenty of fluids on board. The sessions are well spaced out, we train at 8am and we train again at 6pm today, so there is plenty of recovery time between the sessions.
The focal point of the trip is the match against Thailand All Stars on Wednesday evening of course, how are you looking forward to the game itself?
We may not know too much about the opposition in terms of the players we’re up against, but we know they’re going to be tough. I believe it’s a younger version of the national team, with a lot of under-23 players in the squad. Chelsea came out here at the end of last season, played the same team and won 1-0. So it tells you that the standard is OK. I think it will be a difficult game for us. Obviously we’ve got the heat and humidity to deal with and a very short time to adapt to that, so that plays a big part in the game. But it’ll be a good challenge for us and a good game at this stage of pre-season.
The players who have got the bulk of the work done before we came out here will make up the majority of the team. The boys who have just joined us, it’s very unlikely that they’ll play much more than a cameo, if at all. But the ones who do play will get an early chance to impress in pre-season and that’s what they have to do.
And included in that will be a number of younger lads who are part of the squad out here. How have they settled?
They’ve settled into the group really well, which you’d expect. Reading is that type of club; the atmosphere around Hogwood is very relaxed and the players all mix well. So they’ve come in, settled well, and it’ll be a good chance for some of them…a great experience for all of them. And if they get their chance to play tomorrow then hopefully one or two of them will do well.
The interest in the club out here has been a real eye-opener hasn’t it?
It’s a remarkable part of the world for interest in English football. The teams at the top of the Premier League, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool – they are probably the three biggest clubs out in this part of Asia. But for us to come here and to see the blue and white hoops being worn by people from the moment we first stepped off the plane has been good. It was a smaller crowd at the airport than when I came here with Liverpool, smaller than when I came with Chelsea, but this is something we have to try to grow – and this is the first step, the first visit, the first year. I’m sure there will be more visits here over the years. And we have to try to grow this fan base in the Far East and develop a good affinity with this country. And hopefully we can add a few more supporters to the fan base out here.
Meanwhile, let’s not forget that there are a few players following different schedules back at home or with their countries as well?
Michael Hector and Garath McCleary have had a busy summer – they’ve been out to play the Copa America. They didn’t win a game but I spoke to both of them and they said it was a fantastic experience. They’ve both now gone to play in the Gold Cup in America… a tournament I think Jamaica expect to do quite well in. From a selfish point of view, it’d be good if they got knocked out early and came back to us! But there’s no need to worry about the fitness or the condition of Michael and Garath, because they’ve always been working all summer.
The good thing from my point of view is that both of them have been with the team consistently last year, so they know how I work, they know what I expect. It’s more important for me to have the new boys and the younger players who maybe haven’t worked with me so much – this is where we lay down the principles and the values for the season. It was disappointing to lose Jake Cooper with a little strain in his quad muscle. It’s disappointing any time to lose a player in pre-season to a muscle injury, and Simon Cox didn’t come either – he actually finished the end of last season with a problem in his hip, so he’s had a small surgical procedure over the summer and he’s recovering from that. But hopefully when we get back to Hogwood, Simon will be just about ready to start training with the group.