Motherwell skipper Stephen Craigan reckons everyone is raring to go ahead of tomorrow’s first day of pre-season training.
And the 33-year-old says that is down to one man, fitness and physiotherapy guru John Porteous, widely regarded as the best in his profession north of the border.
Porteous gave each player a specific summer training programme to compensate for the fact that ‘Well will be playing competitive games just over two-weeks into the pre-season preparations.
And Craigan is confident both he and the rest of the squad will be returning in tip-top condition thanks to the wonder of modern scientific techniques.
“Training has become an exact science and every SPL club indulges in sports science now,” the 48 times capped Northern Ireland International said.
“Footballers did not seem to bother with it as much in the past. We are lucky at Motherwell because John (Porteous) is one of the best fitness coaches and dieticians in the game.
“Before we embarked on our holidays he gave us all a programme to work on to keep us ticking over until we came back. It was basically a series of jogging, sprinting, running, gym and bike exercises.
“He told all the players to take at least two weeks of complete rest then work on the fitness programmes. I’d be surprised if everyone stuck to it like the letter of the law but the advice is there to keep you active and fit.
“Footballers still dread the first day of pre-season. The weigh-in has become a ritual we fear. It can be a laugh but it’s not something we look forward to.
“John will weigh us on Monday and take account of weight ratios, body mass ratios and fat ratios.
“If anyone has let themselves go a bit it will become public knowledge in the dressing-room. We’re all scared of getting slaughtered for putting on some beef. Most of our guys are used to keeping themselves in shape because we have been playing early European ties.
“Players are human though and we do like wine, beer and a packet of crisps. There are some guys who will put on weight just by looking at a Mars bar.
“But everyone knows their own strengths and weaknesses.
“On the first day back the running won’t be so intense. We will build it up gradually by doing short sprints – like the runs you make in a game. We might do longer runs but that is a rarity these days at any club.”
‘Well were a club in major transition this time last year after gaffer Mark McGhee quit to take the Aberdeen job.
A new manager still hadn’t been appointed when the players returned to training – so Craigan had to step in and oversee their preparations.
The 33-year-old enjoyed putting the squad through their paces and learned a lot from his brief spell in charge.
But Jim Gannon eventually took over just 72 hours before their first European tie with Welsh minnows Llanelli.
And Craigan is glad there is much more stability at Fir Park this summer under experienced duo Brown and Knox.
He said: “Last season I was thrust into the situation and devised programmes to make training enjoyable for myself as well as the team.
“It was interesting because it gave me a new perspective on being a footballer and the preparation that is actually involved in coaching. The club were all over the place last year and needed somebody to take the training – so I stepped in.
“It couldn’t have been that bad as a lot of the lads texted me and said how much they enjoyed the week.
“But I was happy I didn’t have to take the team for a European tie or a crucial SPL battle. That is an entirely different proposition and much more difficult. I still loved the responsibility and we had fun even though we were in the serious business of trying to get ourselves fit for games in Europe.
“We now have two managers who are more than capable of preparing us. We are in good hands on and off the park with Craig and Archie.”
‘Well were given a bloody nose by Welsh minnows Llanelli in their first Euro tie last year as they lost 1-0 to the 16/1 shots at Fir Park.
But they turned it around in the second leg then battered Albanian side Flamurtari 8-1 at Fir Park after losing 1-0 in the first leg.
That left the Steelmen on the brink of the Europa League group stage but they were drawn against former European champions Steaua Bucharest.
And the class of the Romanian giants told as they won 6-1 on aggregate.
Now Craigan hopes those experiences can help the Steelmen go one step further in Europe this season.
He said: “We came in for a lot of criticism for losing to Llanelli.
“But the reality of that game is that we battered them. Llanelli scored with one of only two shots they had on target. The players took a lot of stick and I can understand why. But we recovered and beat the Albanians before losing to Steaua Bucharest in the final qualifying round.
“Whether or not we can reach the group stages remains to be seen. However, the players prefer competitive games in the Europa League to boring pre-season friendlies.
“It is also a nice feeling to put on your CV that you have sampled the delights of European football. We have done that at Fir Park for the past three seasons – which is a fine achievement for the club.
“It would be an even greater achievement if Motherwell did make the group stages this season.”