Gloves on, phones off '“ Huddersfield Town and Sheffield United stars leave comfort zone

SOMETIMES, just sometimes, money or standing does not guarantee success in the modern-day world of football.

New Sheffield United defender James Wilson pounds the punchbag during a training session out of the ordinary for Blades players.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

Just ask Wales or Leicester City, who have provided marvellous living proof that successful teams can be greater than the sum of their parts.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Pound notes cannot purchase the ‘band-of-brothers’ type of togetherness that those in Welsh red or Leicester blue have felt during their spectacular rise to prominence this calendar year.

New Sheffield United defender James Wilson pounds the punchbag during a training session out of the ordinary for Blades players.

No egos, no pomposity, no self-promotion or indulgence. Just humble, honest lads grafting for each other, watching each others’ backs and going about their business as one. It can take you a long way.

In the final analysis, that feeling of togetherness is a rather more precious commodity than cash, with the feats of both outstanding teams resonating with millions – and not just thousands – of people who have grown disenfranchised from the beautiful game.

And with rival managers as well, you would venture.

In an era when modern-day footballers are viewed by sections of the public as cossetted, carefree individuals living in a detached and artificial bubble far removed from the working man, the feats of Wales and Leicester have proven that old-fashioned virtues of comradeship and organisation can take you far and possess great merit.

New Sheffield United defender James Wilson pounds the punchbag during a training session out of the ordinary for Blades players.

The team, not self, is all. For that, we should be grateful.

It is something duly noted by Huddersfield Town head coach David Wagner and Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder.

Both have endeavoured to construct something akin to those bonds, making the fostering of team spirit a target this pre-season, along with the fitness of players.

Both have taken players out of their comfort zone already this summer in their quest to build unity and trust in the formative weeks of a long campaign which equates to a nine-month slog.

While for Blades players, it has meant boxing sessions designed to mentally challenge and toughen up players at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield earlier this week, their Huddersfield counterparts were stripped bare of all perceived essentials during a bonding camp in Sweden where the players ‘roughed it’ by sleeping in tents for four nights.

It was Wagner’s way of also helping to integrate his new signings – many of whom have arrived from his native Germany – with the players already on deck at Huddersfield, in a quest to start building relationships which he hopes will endure over the 2016-17 campaign.

Players were tasked with problem solving during a weekend on a remote Swedish island which was far removed from modern life and where nationality was rendered irrelevant.

It provided clear perspective, according to Wagner, for the challenges which lie ahead.

He said: “It was tough and interesting.

“We came out of our comfort zone and in my opinion, it was very successful because my aim was to bond the lads together as a group and after four nights and three days, I think we did.

“It is important we try and connect the British culture and mentality with the German professionalism. They are two very interesting parts.

“Maybe especially in England as a professional, you live in an extreme comfort zone and you are only able to change if you leave your border. You have to be open to come out of your comfort zone and I believe we have a group who will do this.

“I think we made a big step in terms of getting the new lads into the group.

“We were without mobile phones for three days on a small island. If you do not have something to eat, electricity, a bed, toilet or a shower, you see what a nice, good world we are living in.

“You could not push a button to make a coffee, you had to 
find a wood to make a fire and paddle across the lake to get water.

“If it takes you 45 minutes to make a coffee, you see what a perfect world we live in.

“When we had the reflection at the end of the trip, they realised what a great world we are living in and that they left their comfort zone.

“At the beginning it wasn’t easy and some of the lads were searching in their pockets for a mobile phone and there was not one there.

“But they came together and had to speak and come into contact with each other and I was happy with the trip.”

As with Wagner, Blades chief Wilder is another manager who is putting great stock in the need for togetherness and character.

Having stressed that attitude is something that he prizes just as much as ability in any players who elect to join his brave new world at Bramall Lane, Wilder was an interested onlooker on Tuesday when his squad were forced to show their mettle in boxing sessions, a novel introduction to the club’s pre-season fitness programme.

Judging by the body language of his players, it was clear that plenty was taken out of the sessions, which proved mentally as well as physically challenging with players again taken out of their comfort zone – for an inherent reason.

Tough love, call it what you will...

As for any doubters – if there are any – then expect Wilder to provide them with short 

Wilder said: “One of the things I spoke to the players about and especially the captain was that I wanted to make pre-season interesting and different.

“The players have to go through nine months of different challenges.

“If they do not want to be part of the group well, there is a set of golf clubs and a tennis racket, away you go.

“It is about changing the culture and the attitude of everybody because, when you look through the squad, there is undoubted ability that has underachieved.”