AS the Leeds United travelling party last night touched down in Myanmar ahead of their controversial two-game tour, head coach Paul Heckingbottom insisted the club’s youngsters will benefit from the experience.
The Elland Road club faced a storm of criticism last month when news first emerged of the planned trip.
I am there for the club and for the team and the players, to get to know them more, to push them to understand what it is like being in a first-team environment and for them to feel a bit more comfortable around us.Paul Heckingbottom
A host of MPs led the calls to scrap the tour to Myanmar, formerly Burma and a country whose government has faced accusations of genocide and human rights abuses against minority groups.
Foreign Office guidance warns against all but essential travel to several parts of Myanmar, but Leeds flew out yesterday with a 22-man party featuring a mixture of first-team players and those who turn out for the Under-23 and 18s. Around 50 fans are also expected to make the trip.
“It is not a football trip,” said Heckingbottom. “But, from a squad point of view, you can get something out of it.
“The 23s who I know pretty well and the 18s who have trained with us, there is an opportunity for me now to sit with them and speak.
“Me going to Myanmar, I am not there for the football. I am there for the club and for the team and the players, to get to know them more, to push them to understand what it is like being in a first-team environment and for them to feel a bit more comfortable around us.
“We have seen the value of that with the young players we have put in (the team). We have to get that synergy. You guys generally ask about the product on the pitch, but there is so much more we have to improve on to get everything right at this club.
“That is one bit you have seen a difference in, but there are a lot of subtleties of running a football club and creating a high-performance environment.”
Liam Cooper and Pablo Hernandez are among the more experienced players to miss the trip, Hernandez’s wife having given birth to the couple’s second child last Friday and Cooper being set to become a new father in the coming days.
Pontus Jansson and Ezgjan Alioski were also excused due to upcoming international duty while a hip injury sustained by Adam Forshaw in the final-day victory over Queens Park Rangers meant he remained at home.