Khun Top & Brendan Rodgers

Leicester City's First Pre-Season In Seagrave – A Closer Look

After a month or so away, as the Club’s players took a well-earned rest, Leicester City’s 2021/22 pre-season is now well underway.
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After the reunions on day one, mainly in the palatial dining area at LCFC Training Ground, it’s not long before the Club’s sports science and medical staff are ready to put months' worth of planning into motion. We start with the dreaded testing day – the Foxes’ first since moving to Seagrave.

“Week one is a great time to all get back together,” says Matt Reeves, Leicester City’s Head of Fitness & Conditioning. “It’s much like you used to feel when you were at school after the summer holidays when, all of a sudden, everyone comes back and it’s great catching up.

“Very quickly, that conversation is put aside and the hard work really begins.”

The Club’s staff need to develop a profile of the players’ fitness which will enable them to work on a plan for the summer. It helps shape the manner in which they will be trained and provides an insight into specific areas where the players may need to concentrate on in their fitness building.

“Our testing nowadays is an all-over body screening,” Reeves continues. “The sports science department works very closely with the medical team here. We bounce ideas around to be as close to perfect as we can be. Some of the tests are around aerobic fitness.

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Matt Reeves
Matt Reeves

Matt Reeves provides instructions during training in Seagrave after the Club's first team returned this summer.

“So, that's how the players are able to cope with set demands. That would be predominately a bike test and also the fitness test, called the STS. It’s a test which we developed here and it’s been used across the last 10 seasons, so we’ve got some great data.

“We’ve got really good comparisons in terms of knowing what good performance in that test is, but also areas where players need to push on and work a little bit more. Although the players find that test really tough, and they don’t look forward to it, there is an anticipation around it.

“There’s a great competitive element to it. It brings the day alive.”

Short sprints at a number of different resistances give the staff an understanding of the players’ power. Vertical power is assessed using forced platforms, while repeated hopping and bouncing offers data on explosiveness in short bursts.

Isometric squats give a baseline of lower limb strength. Groin squeezes also present the team with a detailed look at crucial muscles for any footballer. An assessment by the physios on flexibility and movement then rounds the overall profile for the Club’s backroom team.

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!

Tony Cottee

“After those tests, we’ve got a really good understanding of where that player is at, compared to the rest of squad, but also and more importantly, compared to where they’ve been in previous years. The final part is the body composition testing," adds Reeves. "This looks at not only body percentage fat, but also the lean mass and tries to look at where the players were at over the summer.

“It gives a really good indication of their eating habits and their lifestyle throughout that time. Things have been really, really good.”

For former professionals, everything Reeves describes is a world away from their own experiences of pre-season. Foxes fans of a certain age will recall footage of Jock Wallace running his players up and down a mud heap, with no end in sight.

In the 1990s, football was gradually becoming more refined, but was still unrecognisable – certainly in terms of off-season preparation – to today’s methodical landscape.

“It’s so hard to compare pre-season nowadays because when I first started, it was a completely different scenario,” ex-City striker and pundit Tony Cottee says. “On the very first day of pre-season, you’re up in the forests and hills running 10 miles, so it was not an enjoyable experience that’s for sure!

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Tony Cottee
Tony Cottee

Pre-season running for Tony Cottee and Steve Walsh during their stints with the Foxes in the late 1990s.

“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.”

Cottee’s memories ring true, too, for Simon Grayson, another former Leicester player who shudders at the thought of Bradgate Park.

“The experiences I had with Leicester in pre-season certainly isn’t like it is today,” Grayson jokes. “We reported back and went around Bradgate Park, where we ran up a few hills up there and through the forest around the Whetstone area and down by the canal.

“Going back over 20 years, pre-season was used to get fit again. We didn’t have any programmes to do over the summer break, which the players certainly do have now.

Players have to conduct themselves and look after themselves far better now because of what’s at stake with football now. They have a responsibility to the Football Club and its supporters.

Simon Grayson

“We might have done a few runs during the last week before coming back for pre-season, and there was certainly a lot of nervousness about at that time! You knew you were going to be doing the hills at Bradgate Park and all of the other long-distance runs.

“You were doing them to get fit again. Now, players are given strength and conditioning programmes and they do get their down time, but they have to make sure they’re ticking over so that they can hit the ground running as soon as they come back.

“Players have to conduct themselves and look after themselves far better now because of what’s at stake with football now. They have a responsibility to the Football Club and its supporters.”

Meanwhile, Matt Elliott, the Club’s 2000 League Cup-winning captain, recalls a time from his early career where off-season relaxation came back to bite him upon his return to training.

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Matt Elliott
Matt Elliott

Laps of the Belvoir Drive for Matt Elliott in the pre-season ahead of the 2001/02 season.

“At one stage, I can't remember whether it was at Torquay or Scunthorpe, but when I was only a young lad, I put quite a bit of weight!” he reveals.

“It took me the whole season to get fit and, by the time I was fit again, the season had ended! I did eventually sort it out and I got fitter and fitter as I got older.

“It wasn’t easy for me after six weeks off because I liked barbecues! You do become more mature and more disciplined as you get older and you do really feel the benefits.”

Although the Club’s backroom team were keen to offer a suitable rest to the squad’s players, especially after a gruelling 2020/21 campaign, off-season work assigned by staff incrementally increased as pre-season neared for Leicester City’s first team squad.

By the time they returned, there was already some work in the tank. According to Reeves, the players value the importance of those efforts as it enables them to hit the ground running.

We let them go and enjoy themselves, reflect on last season, the good and the bad, and refresh. They could spend time with their families and go on holiday etc. Once those first two weeks are out of the way, it was then a case of building a level of work in the close-season.

Matt Reeves

“Very quickly, it can have a big impact on where they fit in the plans for the games and then the Community Shield and then the first game of the season,” he adds.

“Players want to perform well. They want to show off their talent and ultimately, if they’re in good shape and their fitness is to a high level, that’s going to allow them to perform on the pitch in a better way. Their technical ability is going to be strong, their decision-making is going to better, because they’re not as tired, and so there’s a number of different factors.

“The players nowadays are really coming back to a high, high level. This close-season was more of a challenge for us then in the past.

“With COVID and the short turnaround between last season and the season before, when the players only really had three weeks off, we had a really disjointed season when lockdown kicked in.

“Then, we had Project Restart, so one thing we were keen to give the players was some much-needed downtime. For the first couple of weeks, we had very little contact with them.

“We let them go and enjoy themselves, reflect on last season, the good and the bad, and refresh. They could spend time with their families and go on holiday. Once those first two weeks are out of the way, it was then a case of building a level of work in the close-season.

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Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall
Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall

The balls were out early in pre-season for the Foxes this summer in Seagrave.

“That will be through runs and also include some injury prevention work, some lower-limb strength work, some upper limb body strength work… core programmes.

“It’s not about training to the same intensity as they do in-season, but certainly we look to progress the training loads in that time and so the frequency and duration of the sessions will increase week on week.”

For many of the current crop of Leicester players, it’s only been a month away. But for Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, who spent the previous campaign impressing many on loan at Luton Town, it’s his first real taste of all the facilities on offer at LCFC Training Ground in Seagrave.

It’s also an opportunity to catch up with players like Harvey Barnes, who has been on a similar journey at the Club since before they were both even teenagers.

Away from the rigorous testing and early ball work out on the training pitches, the Shepshed-based midfielder was able to sit down with manager Brendan Rodgers to discuss his development.

I’ve been in the training ground a lot but I’ve seen everyone’s faces and I’ve got some company so it’s been really good. It’s been really positive. It’s our first proper full pre-season we’ll have here in Seagrave and it’s a special place.

Harvey Barnes

“We've had a couple of really good conversations,” Dewsbury-Hall explains. “He monitored me closely at Luton, which for a player is really good because it's important for your parent club manager to know how you're doing and how you're reacting to everything. We've had some good chats since I've been back.

“He's given me a good pathway of what he wants from me as a player, things he wants me to keep doing and improve on, or work on, so it's exciting. He's one of the best managers in the world. I'm only going to develop under him. He's going to help me as a player and he's going to push me to the next level.”

Barnes, on the other hand, suffered a knee injury back in February and has used the break to continue his rehabilitation in an effort to ensure his return is as swift as possible. For the England midfielder, it was just nice to have familiar faces back at the training ground.

“Obviously, the back end of last season was a frustrating period where you’re trying to get yourself back fit and you’re watching on from the sidelines,” he explains.

"You can’t do a lot and then, over the summer, I’ve been in a lot just rehabbing and trying to get back to 100 per cent again. It’s been good today.

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Glen Driscoll
Glen Driscoll

Glen Driscoll, who joined Brendan Rodgers from Celtic, in conversation with the Leicester City manager inside the King Power Centre.

“I’ve been in the training ground a lot but I’ve seen everyone’s faces and I’ve got some company so it’s been really good. It’s been really positive. It’s our first proper full pre-season we’ll have here in Seagrave and it’s a special place. There’s no complaints about any of the facilities. We have all the stuff we need to really kick on.”

Like Reeves, Glen Driscoll, the Club’s First Team Fitness Coach, has been enthused by the players’ application in Seagrave, despite the record-breaking heat which has baked the country over the past fortnight.

“It’s been very hot,” he says. “It certainly feels like pre-season! The players have been really good. It’s actually an advantage for you if you can keep the output up and all the metrics the players have shown they’ve been working really hard.

“It benefits them. We’re looking, over these two weeks, to get a really good base. We missed that opportunity last season, as did all the clubs. You could see across all the teams, with the injury rates, that it can hit you. It’s really important we give the players that base.

If [the heat] stops you being able to hit the levels you want to hit, then you’re not going to get the fitness gains, but if they can maintain those levels – which they are at the moment – if the intensity and the density of the sessions are maintained, it’s of real benefit.

Glen Driscoll

“It’s aerobic, it’s speed endurance, it’s strength and power. It’s going really well, so we’re happy at the moment.”

It would be easy to assume that sustained hot weather could be detrimental to pre-season preparations, but as Driscoll explains, it carries several benefits for the players.

“If you look at all the research, there’s been a lot on altitude training and heat training gives you as good a benefit. If it stops you being able to hit the levels you want to hit, then you’re not going to get the fitness gains, but if they can maintain those levels – which they are at the moment – if the intensity of the sessions are maintained, it’s of real benefit.”

This particular pre-season has also been an opportunity for three new faces to settle into their environment in Seagrave. For several years, new recruits have regularly credited the squad for providing a welcoming platform which enables them to thrive. Boubakary Soumaré is no different.

“Everyone has made an effort to help settle me in as quickly as possible,” Bouba tells us. “I understand a little bit of English, but speaking is difficult, so people have made a real effort to make sure I’m okay.”

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Boubakary Soumaré
Boubakary Soumaré

Young French midfielder Boubakary Soumaré is settling in quickly at Leicester City.

It certainly must help him that Wesley Fofana, an international team-mate with France’s Under-21s, is already at the Club.

“He is a great person,” the Paris Saint-Germain youth product adds. “He helps me both on and off the pitch. We get on very well. I feel good, I feel good. I’ve been welcomed by everyone at the Club – the staff, the coaches, my team-mates. It’s all going well so far.”

Ryan Bertrand is another player to have linked up with Rodgers' squad this summer. Now into his early 30s, the former Chelsea and Southampton full-back has seen firsthand how summer training has dramatically shifted into the considered approach developed today.

“As a player, it’s a good moment,” the England international explains. “It’s the acquisition phase where you’re getting to know your team-mates and you’re building your fitness. You’re trying to get fitter than everybody else!

“You want to sharpen all your technical abilities up. Some players look at it as a daunting aspect of the game, but I look at it as a positive to gather all the tools to implement in the season.

“The change in pre-season has been massive. It’s gone from the daunting, uncoordinated running sessions, to fantastic full processes. The football is introduced every step of the way and it’s definitely a phase where it can leave you in amazing stead to start the season right.”

It’s been great because being away from these lads for over a month, coming back to see them, with great smiles, and everyone’s happy, it’s really good.

Wilfred Ndidi

Two of the players who lit up last season's Emirates FA Cup-winning campaign were Nigerian duo Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho. Close friends off the pitch and valuable assets on it, the pair are familiar with the Club's pre-season thought-process and buy into it entirely.

“After the break, we need the pre-season,” Ndidi says. “We’re used to it, so it’s normal for us, but I’ve missed playing! It’s just one month or so, so being back and starting training with the lads, just running and playing football, it feels refreshing. It’s really nice.

“It’s been great because being away from these lads for over a month, coming back to see them, with great smiles, and everyone’s happy, it’s really good.

“Seeing everyone happy and ready to go, it’s really good, as a team and as a family. I look forward to what’s coming ahead. In pre-season, we take it slowly. We don’t rush into playing games. It’s training in order to play the games, to get the muscles going and the cobwebs out.

“It’s just something we’re planning. Slowly, slowly, we’ll be ready for the games.”

Iheanacho, on the other hand, ended last season as Leicester's top goalscorer in all competitions, with 19 goals, after a sensational run of form, particularly following the New Year. Naturally, the former Manchester City forward wants to build on that tally, but more points are top of his agenda. 

“Obviously, I scored goals last season,” says Kelechi. “I think, this season, we really need do more and focus on our games. I have a good feeling that, this season, it might fall for us and we’ll get what we want.

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Kelechi Iheanacho
Kelechi Iheanacho

Nigeria striker Kelechi Iheanacho shares a joke with his manager following testing at the Club's headquarters in north Leicestershire.

“As I said before, we need to concentrate and focus on the games one after the other and hopefully we’ll get there in the end.

“I pray for more goals, but most importantly, more wins and more points. We’re hoping we’ll be back fit and strong so we can work together again. I’m happy, coming back here, and hopefully we’ll enjoy it and we're even enjoying the running as well!”

Pre-season steps up this weekend with a short journey to Staffordshire to tackle Sky Bet League 1 outfit Burton Albion. The friendlies this summer, as in recent times, sees City's opponents gradually step up the nature of the challenge.

Wycombe Wanderers, narrowly relegated from the Championship last season, present the next test, before a trip to second-tier outfit Queens Park Rangers precedes the visit of UEFA Europa League holders Villarreal in August. 

“In the first week, the sessions were intense, but we were really trying to control the amount of work the players did,” Driscoll reveals. “In a day, they were hitting over 10,000 metres over two sessions. This week, the slight difference is we’re looking to get full-pitch minutes.

“We’ll then look to freshen the players up for Burton. Once we get through the games, we go from aerobic, speed endurance work to more strength, football-related work. That includes three vs. threes and two vs. twos and anyone who’s done those know they’re very intense!

I’ve missed it, I think everyone has. It’s a month of holidays without your team-mates, so it’s nice to get back together and we’re all really happy to be back out on the pitch.

Wesley Fofana

“All the way up to these games and in between them, we’ll be working the players really hard. From a fans’ point of view, you always want to see us start the pre-season well and perform and win, but we are periodising these weeks to really push the players.

"Once the games kick in and the minutes kick in, it's those moments in games where there's combats for the ball and tight-space moments, where players have to show that acceleration, de-acceleration and power... all the work we do beforehand in training, it all gets factored in.

"We still have the challenge of Europe this season and I think we're set up now, with the facility we have here in Seagrave, with the medical and science departments, we are excited now. If we can get them up to full fitness, which we know we will, we can have a successful season.”

Fofana, on the other hand, is another player who has spoken over the past fortnight as he embarks on his first full pre-season at the Club. His form attracted widespread acclaim throughout his debut campaign in England and the former Saint-Étienne centre-back is eager to hit those levels again.

“I think I adapted quite quickly, as my game suits the way football is played in England,” he tells us. “My team-mates and the Club have also helped to settle me in. It’s gone well, and I hope to do even better next season. 

“It’s like when I arrived last season, everyone has been very welcoming, everyone is happy being back and happy to see one another. We’re working hard. The first two weeks are always tough, but we’re working hard and it’s going well.

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Wesley Fofana
Wesley Fofana

Not even a full year into his Leicester career and only 20 years-old, Wesley Fofana is already a popular member of the squad.

"I’ve missed it, I think everyone has. It’s a month of holidays without your team-mates, so it’s nice to get back together and we’re all really happy to be back out on the pitch.”

The 20-year-old also provided an insight into Rodgers' messaging to the group in Seagrave as the Northern Irishman plans ahead for his third full season in charge of the Foxes on the back of leading the Club to its first-ever FA Cup success in May and successive European qualifications.

“He happy to have us all back together,” Fofana says. “He says we need to be mentally prepared as it’s a long season ahead, and we have European football to look forward to again. We have objectives we want to achieve, so we need to work, work, work to achieve what we want to."

Leicester's Marseille-born No.3 has also encountered a change in role this summer. He's been there to help new players settle in and it's a task he's been delighted to take up, especially considering his close friendship with Soumaré in particular. 

In truth, whoever you speak to, whether they be players or members of staff, the noises coming out of Seagrave are all filled with excitement and anticipation for a campaign which promises so much for the Foxes. 

“It's going very well, they’ve settled in straightaway,” Fofana continued. “I knew Bouba from before which has helped him. Everyone seems happy, you can see. We need to make sure they feel comfortable, because they’re part of the team now and we are all together - and the weather is beautiful!”

The water polo was a good laugh for the lads. We had three teams and played a mini tournament which was good. I enjoyed it myself, so I'm sure the other lads did - and our team won!

Luke Thomas

More recently, on Wednesday, Club Chairman Khun Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha visited LCFC Training Ground to meet with Rodgers and his squad before the running and ball drills were replaced by yoga and water polo later in the week as the players were allowed to relax between sessions.

“The gaffer said we'd had a good first days and deserved a recovery day,” reveals Academy graduate Luke Thomas. “We've looked good and sharp so far, especially in the heat. Getting used to that was hard, but we're getting through each day, day by day.

“The water polo was a good laugh for the lads. We had three teams and played a mini tournament which was good. I enjoyed it myself, so I'm sure the other lads did - and our team won!”

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Luke Thomas
Luke Thomas

A more relaxed session for Luke Thomas and his team-mates as water-polo is on the agenda in the swimming pool.

Elsewhere, another busy day of media duties saw Patson Daka take a seat in front of the LCFC TV cameras. The Zambia international's arrival has sparked huge excitement among the Blue Army and in the 22-year-old's homeland. After around a week in Leicester, Daka is already loving life in England.

“I think it has been so easy for me because everyone here is very nice,” the former RB Salzburg striker says. “It’s like a family here.

“It has been so easy for me to settle down because everyone has made it easy for me with the way they have welcomed me. They’ve made me feel like I was part of the team already and I went out on loan and then I came back. That’s how I felt the very first day here.”

Pre-season reaches its next phase on Saturday when the Foxes tackle Burton Albion at Pirelli Stadium, live on LCFC TV. For Daka and his fellow new signings, it could be an opportunity to run out in Leicester's colours for the first-ever time. Naturally, he's eager to get started.

“I’m very much excited [for Burton],” he explained. “I’m looking forward to the day. Most importantly, also, to contribute to the team, to get to work together now. We’ve been playing against each other in training, now we come together to compete with another team.”

“I think it’s something I’m really looking forward to. It’s now the time to build connections with the players and to understand each other better and this is a good step to start.”

Key figures from the Club's first team operation speak weekly in the LCFC Pre-Season Podcast, available at the end of each week, while all content can be found HERE

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