Twenty-four of Marcelo Bielsa’s squad and a host of Thorp Arch medical staff descended on Leeds Beckett University’s £45m Carnegie School of Sport for the first day of pre-season testing.
Players were screened and assessed at a range of stations as head of medicine and performance Rob Price and his team worked with university staff to ensure their footballers are all fit, healthy and to uncover base lines from which to maintain and recover fitness over the season.
Everywhere you looked there were Premier League footballers and the younger element, Mark Jackson’s Under-23s who harbour top-flight dreams, in scenarios outside their comfort zone.
In one room, Raphinha puffed into a mask and tubes while, in another, Jamie Shackleton jabbed out a hand to trigger a sensor and, upstairs, Charlie Cresswell, strapped into a machine, strained with all his might to raise and lower his leg.
Both Shackleton and Cresswell are familiar faces for Dr Stacey Emmonds, a reader in sports performance at Leeds Beckett and former staff member at Thorp Arch.
“I was with the academy for six years,” she said. “The really young players were Charlie Cresswell and Jamie Shackleton, I’ve seen both of those boys come in this morning.
“I wasn’t sure even if they’d remember me because they were so young but they did. It was really nice to see them progressing.”
Emmonds found the Leeds players in high spirits as the footballing calendar begins again in earnest, albeit without those who were or still are involved in Euro 2020, like Kalvin Phillips and Diego Llorente.
“The boys seem really excited to be back,” she said.
“Players have been really enthusiastic today and they’ve all got straight stuck into everything.
“They are world-class facilities that we have now and that’s probably something that we weren’t able to offer previously.”
In one exercise, midfielder Shackleton hit the threshold for processing a sequence of increasingly brief flashes and, in another, he had to identify whether it was a truck or car that had appeared in his central vision and which of the coloured lights had flashed in his peripheral at the same time.
In between assessments players gathered in the canteen, where Raphinha and Rodrigo chatted with Ian Poveda, while Sam Greenwood, new boy Amari Miller and Illan Meslier were among those catching up or becoming newly acquainted across the table tennis table. Senior players like Stuart Dallas, Luke Ayling and Patrick Bamford mixed and mingled with the youngsters and staff members over lunch.
“Everybody dreads pre-season to a certain extent but I think it’s good because you’ve been away for a while, it’s good to get back in amongst the lads,” said Dallas.
Any new signings, like Junior Firpo whose move from Barcelona is progressing, will go through the same testing process before life begins at Thorp Arch, their data added to the information gathered yesterday.
“Preferably, I’m sure Bielsa would like the data by 6pm tonight and some of it will be there ready,” said Peter Mackreth, dean of Carnegie School of Sport.
“We have a number of systems in place so that those things can be provided very quickly, but some takes longer.
“It’s brilliant to be able to use our facilities to support the Premier League players and help the staff to be prepared,” added Dr Emmonds.
“This is the the kind of day that we do this for.”