Preston North End manager Alex Neil has overseen the first two days of training as the players have returned to begin their preparations for the 2019/20 season.
The Lilywhites’ squad were back at Springfields on Thursday and faced two warm, sunny days of intense hard work as the countdown began to the opening day trip to Millwall.
The PNE boss spoke to iFollow PNE at the training ground and was pleased with the way in which the group had returned.
“The lads are looking good,” said the gaffer. “Those days are gone where players come back overweight and things like that. The lads are proper athletes now, they look after themselves and are in good nick.
“It is just a case now of making sure that we put them through their paces and get them to a level we know we can reach in terms of fitness.
“This pre-season we want to get them up to the best standard we can, but without breaking them down. It is going to be really important that we try and minimise injuries this season and keep our best players on the pitch, which gives us the best chance.”
Patrick Bauer spent his first two days with his new team-mates and Alex believes the extra competition is something the group will relish.
“It is always nice to add a bit of competition and some fresh faces to the squad,” continued the 38-year-old. “The squad want that and need that as well. What is does is keep everyone on their toes and knows that they have to be performing at their best.
“Something we spoke about in the summer is the fact we have recruited a lot of younger players in the last couple of seasons and our average age has come down considerably and I think now we need top it up with a little bit more experience, a little bit more know how and hopefully that should help us this season.”
Whilst he is delighted to be back, the North End chief admitted the first couple of weeks aren’t his favourite time of year: “It is a little bit boring because there aren’t any games! Games are probably the things I look forward to the most, but they will soon be coming thick and fast.
“The first week is a lot of physical work, as well as the balls, but once we get into the games and prepping for games, then that is the bit I enjoy the most.”
The return to training also starts to highlight there is also a countdown to 8th August and the closing of the summer transfer window and the lack of early activity up and down the country, particularly in the Championship, is something Alex thinks could help level the playing field.
“I wouldn’t say there is a lack of cash, but there are probably less clubs who are flush this year than previous years. We have seen teams like Aston Villa, West Brom and Middlesbrough who in years gone by have flung a bit of money at it, but I don’t think teams are in the position to do that this year as much as they have been.
“We are hoping that will make the playing field a lot more level and that we can impress and do what we can.
“What is going to be really interesting is that if financial fair play rules continue to be broken, what the consequences of that will be and a few teams are probably worried about that, because nobody had been punished before last season.
“They are much more conscious of it now, which means they are having to rein it in a little bit and for us, that is only a good thing,” he added.