Martin Cranie relishing more hospitable climes for Huddersfield Town's bonding escape

CONSIDERING how many pundits have likened Huddersfield Town's prospects in the Premier League as akin to being up a certain creek without a paddle, David Wagner must surely have been tempted to repeat his unusual preparations of a year ago.

Martin Cranie and his Huddersfield Town team-mates head to Austria for their pre-season tour with a training camp in the shadow of the Alps proving the polar opposite to the remote island in Sweden that head coach David Wagner took his then-Championship side to last summer. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

The very first day of pre-season in 2016 saw the Terriers squad dragged to a tiny uninhabited island off the coast of Sweden for a trip that was more Bear Grylls than Brentford, the visitors to the John Smith’s Stadium on the opening day just a few weeks later.

Once there, the players had to fend for themselves in a place with no running water, no electricity and no toilets. Or, horror of all horrors in the modern world, mobile phones.

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The idea was to bring the players – there were 11 new signings in the party dropped off on Ed in the middle of the night – together amid a harsh environment that was very much man against the elements.

Huddersfield Town head coach David Wagner ( Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

A rota that saw different pairings share tents each night and even canoes in the hunt for fresh water helped foster an unbreakable bond that, nearly 11 months later, had taken Huddersfield into the Premier League.

As Town prepare to embark on another survival mission, this time among English football’s elite, Wagner has opted for a more traditional pre-season with a recent one-night trip to Germany being followed today by the squad flying out to Austria for a week-long training camp.

Martin Cranie, one of the veterans from last summer’s trip to an island that was roughly half the size of a football pitch, admits being put through their paces in the shadow of the Alps will be very different.

“I am very glad,” laughed the 30-year-old defender when asked by The Yorkshire Post if he was relieved not to be heading back to the wilds.

Huddersfield Town head coach David Wagner ( Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

“Lads like Jonathan Hogg loved it, he was in his element. But, for most of us, it was very different. I didn’t know what to expect at all when told we were going.

“The manager had been before but no-one else had. He knew what we would be getting into but 90 per cent of the lads didn’t know what was going on. But we got through it and I do believe it helped bond us as a team. We all got to know each other really well, especially the new lads.

“These days, people are on their phones all the time but there was no signal, nothing out there at all. We literally had to talk. That really helped the new boys settle in.

“Austria will be different. It is good, though, to be in a different environment because there are still quite a few new faces.

“Up to now, we have been training but then all going off to see our families. In Austria, we will be living in each other’s pockets and spending 24/7 together. It will be a chance to get to know the newer lads.”

Town’s visit to Austria will be their second inside a year. Twelve months ago, pre-season was rounded off with a camp in Fugen that included fixtures against Werder Bremen and FC Ingolstadt.

This time around, Kirchberg will be the club’s base for a trip that will feature double training sessions plus friendlies against Stuttgart and Torino.

“The summer has gone quite quickly, to be fair,” added Cranie when asked about preparations designed to make the Terriers peak a fortnight today at Crystal Palace.

“It was shorter than usual because of the play-offs, it meant we only had four weeks off rather than the usual six.

“We have been back training for a few weeks now but things are starting to get going now. The manager prefers to go on a trip like this later on.

“At previous clubs, it was different and the first two weeks of pre-season would be all about a training camp like this.

“But he likes to do things very differently so we go out a bit later. Now, the last two games are all about sharpening up. Everyone feels very fit at the moment, the tests at the start of pre-season showed the lads’ fitness levels to be very high. No-one needed to catch up and it is now about nailing down the tactical stuff.”

Wagner, after naming effectively two different XIs in Wednesday’s friendly defeat to Udinese at the John Smith’s Stadium, is expected to revert to a first choice line-up for both Tuesday’s friendly in Schwaz and the meeting with Torino three days later in Jenbach.

For the likes of Cranie, this could mean time on the sidelines but, as last season proved when Wagner rotated his squad to deal with a punishing schedule, that is unlikely to remain the case in the coming weeks and months.

“The manager has shown before it is a squad game,” said the Yeovil-born defender. “That gives everyone a chance, as at some stage he will need you.

“No-one gets their head down, as a result. Everyone is ready to step in, knowing it can happen at any time. If you are not concentrating or ready then you will waste that opportunity because you will be caught out on the pitch.”

As for Town’s return to the top flight after a 45-year absence and a season that will culminate in a daunting four-game run against Chelsea, Everton, Manchester City and Arsenal, Cranie added: “I can’t remember looking forward to a season as much as this one. Everyone in Huddersfield is the same.

“It will be tough, we know that. But we will do our best. I did look at the fixtures when they came out, it was hard not to. I saw the first couple and then the last few. I did say to someone, ‘We need to be home and hosed before we get to those last four’!

“No game is going to be a gimmie, home or away, in this league and we will have to be at our best to pick up points. But we will certainly be positive. There is nothing to lose.”