Tony Cottee and Steve Walsh

Tony Cottee's Pre-Season: From Malaysia To Bradgate Park

Tony Cottee enjoyed a successful three-season spell at Leicester City, but over his whole 19-year career, the London-born striker sampled a varying array of pre-season styles.
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Cottee joined the Club from Malaysian Super League side Selangor FA in 1997 before going on to net 34 goals predominantly under the management of Martin O'Neill.

As pre-season approaches for Brendan Rodgers' present day crop of Foxes stars, LCFC.com is speaking to a host of Leicester legends about their memories of summer schedules.

Similarly to the experiences of fellow former City players, Matt Elliott and Simon Grayson, Cottee believes that pre-season in the modern climate is almost unrecognisable to his recollection.

"It’s so hard to compare pre-season nowadays because when I first started, it was a completely different scenario," the 53-year-old Sky Sports pundit says.

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Leicester City in pre-season
Leicester City in pre-season

Pre-season was defined in the 1990s by a dedication to long-distance running.

"On the very first day of pre-season back in my day, you’re up in the forests and the hills running 10 miles, so it was not an enjoyable experience that’s for sure!

"When the players come back now, they will certainly be seeing a ball a lot earlier than what we did and pre-season, quite rightly, is dedicated to what you do in the matches.

"In other words, you don’t run in a forest for 10 miles! Football’s not like that, you’re not running up and down hills, and you’re not running at the same pace.

"Football is very explosive, so you need to do little shuttle runs and you need to do some work to get your touch back after a few weeks away.

It’s always nice as a player when you’ve had your rest to get back in, see your mates again, get to meet the new players, and there was always a buzz around a club on that day.

Tony Cottee

"Pre-season is a lot more tailored now to get them ready for that first match as opposed to what we were doing, which was trying to run off the three or four pounds you’d put on over summer.

"It’s always nice as a player when you’ve had your rest to get back in, see your mates again, get to meet the new players, and there was always a buzz around a club on that day. 

"I always looked forward to getting back. You enjoy your holiday because it’s important for a football player to rest, but when you’re back, it’s an exciting time."

A decade before joining the Foxes, Cottee signed for Everton in what proved to be a club-record deal from West Ham United in 1988.

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Tony Cottee
Tony Cottee

Cottee's early career involved two spells at West Ham, either side of a time at Everton.

He remembers his first week at the Merseyside club well as he struggled to catch up with his new team-mates in fitness drills after joining them a few days later.

"I was a record transfer, and everyone had been back three or four days before me, so they had been working for longer," Cottee reveals.

"My legs weren’t ready to do what I wanted them to do and I literally just fell over and at one point I had the lads shouting: ‘How much did we pay for you?!’

"I have lots of really good memories from pre-seasons through the years. You’ve got to put the hours in.

You can often get a better work-out against a local side in the Championship or League 1 than you’d get against a team from the opposite side of the world.

Tony Cottee

"Pre-season is hard and everyone thinks being a footballer is easy… it’s not, it’s a very hard profession and you always need to work hard on your fitness."

Cottee is a player associated with a sparkling period in the Club's history as O'Neill's men settled in the Premier League, competed in Europe and won major trophies.

O'Neill had a simple approach to pre-season training, Cottee says, and preferred to remain local during the summer period to ground his squad in hard work.

"We went to Ireland a few times at Leicester, but Martin didn’t really like going away in pre-season," Cottee says.

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Tony Cottee, Neil Lennon and Steve Guppy
Tony Cottee, Neil Lennon and Steve Guppy

Cottee and his Foxes colleagues enjoyed trips to Ireland quite regularly in summer.

"He’d be more likely to take us away in the middle of the season. Martin was a lot more interested in playing against local teams and there was a lot of common sense in that.

"You can often get a better work-out against a local side in the Championship or League 1 than you’d get against a team from the opposite side of the world.

"I had a mixed bag at Leicester under the great Martin O’Neill where we used to go up in the forests… we used to run around Bradgate Park which, again, wasn’t enjoyable!"

Speaking of playing football in far-flung locations, conversation turns to Cottee's one-year stay in Malaysia with Selangor FA, where he was subjected to a three-month pre-season.

He remembers: "To be honest, it was harder than anything I'd done or would do! We got back in for training in January, ready for the first game of the season in April.

"With the heat and humidity out there, trust me, that was a really, really hard pre-season and quite possibly the hardest I’ve ever done.

As we all know, English weather’s unpredictable in March, the weather was about 10 degrees, but for me, it was absolute heaven.

Tony Cottee

"I have no idea why we did a three-month pre-season. Every day was about 40 degrees and about 75 per cent humidity, so I absolutely struggled like mad!

"It was just too hot for me. We had small-sided games, we had full matches, training, we did all the running, and it was occasionally tedious.

"Luckily for me, the manager was the ex-QPR and Chelsea defender, Steve Wicks, and he decided to organise a trip to England to play against lower league and reserve teams.

"As we all know, English weather is unpredictable in March... the temperature was about 10 degrees, but for me, it was absolute heaven. 

"All the other boys had bobble hats on and tracksuits, but I was buzzing around and loving it!"

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