Sells Goalkeeping academy speak to SGA Director Andy Marshall about his and the Aston Villa trip to Hong Kong for the Asian cup. As the new season is getting underway, the previous Four weeks have been spent working double training sessions and travelling around the world for the modern day professional footballers. Andy tells us about the trip with Aston Villa as well as the clubs final pre season match away in Braga in Portugal.
Pre season is always a hard time for any footballer, no matter what level you play at. Things have definitely changed over the time I have been a professional footballer. There is a lot more science behind the structure of how a pre season is put together. I have to say that it is for the benefit of both the players and the game. Players tend not to get so many strains and tears these days in pre season, as it is not just a case of pointless running to try to get you fit. As part of our pre season at Aston Villa we took part in the Asian cup in Hong Kong along with Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea and a local professional side. There where only four teams so we only had two games, which meant we would be doing a lot of training as well. We arrived in Hong Kong on the Monday after flying through the day on a 12 hour flight. That evening we trained in 35 Degree heat and 75% humidity. The Goalkeeper coach Rafa decided it was our only chance to have a real hard session and took it upon himself to work myself, Shay Givan and Brad Guzan to the point that we could physically not do any more. The humidity was destroying us, we could not escape from the sun between working, and after One hour we reached the point where we had to stop. Thank fully at that point we where called over to join the rest of the players for a game. Twenty minutes later we where finished and sitting in an Ice bath, which was hasterly arranged for us next to the pitch. It was one of the hardest sessions I have ever done, simply because you could not breathe. It was simply welcome to Hong Kong.
The next day was a lighter session training for about One Hour 15 Minutes in the morning, followed by a gym session in the afternoon for about One Hour. Thank fully the gym session was in doors in the Hotel that we where staying in.
The Tuesday came and this day was preparing for the match on the Wednesday against Blackburn Rovers. We trained in the evening at the stadium where we would play the game. Chelsea had just finished their training session on the main pitch as their game was immediately after ours on the Wednesday. The session was a good training session, at last we where out of the sun and under floodlights. The humidity was still very high, but at least the heat was less. We spent 30 Minutes warming up with our GK Rafa, before Shay went with the defenders and myself and Brad Guzan did the shooting with the centre forwards. Its been great working with both Brad and Shay. We all get on very well, and its interesting to see a player of Shays level and how he trains.
Wednesday s game arrived which we kicked off at 6:30pm. It was a hard game physically because of the heat, but we won with a Darren Bent goal early in the second half. The lads where exhausted after the match, simply because of the humidity.
Thursdays training session was a short and sharp session for the players that did not play in the game the evening before. For those that played, it was a warm down in the gym. In the afternoon we where able to spend some relaxing by the swimming pool. Some of the players went shopping for a couple of hours, but most just took the time to relax.
Friday was game preparation for the Saturday match. The training session lasted about one and a half hours, but the heat had dropped. The keepers spent about 40 minutes with our Goalkeeper coach before joining the rest of the players for a six a side tournament. The afternoon was spent relaxing in our rooms, although we did nick an hour by the pool again.
Saturdays game against Chelsea is going to be a tough game, and we where not disappointed. We did not kick off till 8:30pm so we had the whole day relaxing, which was a blessing as most of the players where jet lagged all week so where sleeping better in during the day. Chelsea immediately took the lead within a minute of the game starting. Shay Given made a fantastic double block, but was helpless for the third shot, which put Chelsea ahead. Chelsea where very dominant in the match, scoring a Fernando Torres goal midway through the second half with his first touch of the ball. Shay Given was the Aston Villa hero showing his international class on several occasions.
Chelsea end up winning the Asian cup, but all in all it was a very positive trip for us. We have come through Eight days of gruelling training, and two very productive games with no injuries. All that was left was a Thirteen and a half hour flight home.
One of the players asked the stewardess why was the journey back to the UK almost Two hours longer. With a straight and honest face I turned to him and told him it was because we where flying uphill going back to the UK so it takes longer. His reaction was Oh Really. Me and the stewardess turned and walked away.
Pre-Season Trip to Portugal to Play Braga
After Four weeks of Pre season, including the Hong Kong trip we had one final game away against Braga in Portugal. This was to prove to be a very worthy test for Aston Villa a week before the season is to begin. We flew out to Porto in Portugal on Friday morning, where we then had a coach collect us from the airport, before taking a forty minute transfer to our hotel in Braga. The Friday evening we trained at Braga training ground next to amazing Braga Municipal Stadium which was built for the 2004 European cup finals. This is truly a piece of engineering genious. The whole stadium was excavated from a rock quarry taking 18 months to clear a large enough area to accommodate the stadium and pitch before building could begin. The stadium is only made up of Two stands running the full length of either side of the pitch, accommodating 31,154 seats. Behind either goal are Two rock faces, whilst under the pitch there is a labyrinth of corridors connecting both stands together. The strangest thing for the players was you arrived on one level, taking a lift to the next level where the changing rooms where. But to reach the pitch you again had to go up another level in a lift. So as you went out to the game in your kit, all the players had to catch a lift to pitch level. Something that we are not used too.
The game itself was a good run out for us. Braga proved to be very good opponents, playing sleek passing football. After 15 minutes they took the lead as we failed to close down a fabulous effort, which was bent into the top right hand corner giving Shay Given in goal no chance. This is how the game stayed until midway through the second half when Aston Villa new signing Charles N-Zogbia coolly finished after a Darren Bent effort was blocked from close range. We never really got going as we went forward, but the game proved to be a very good test for us. Our final game was now finished, it was a case now of getting home and then preparing for the opening game against Fulham.