“Listen to me” - Norwich City boss Alex Neil demands full focus from his players

Norwich manager Alex Neil and Wes Hoolahan share a joke during a training session at the club's Germ

Norwich manager Alex Neil and Wes Hoolahan share a joke during a training session at the club's German training base. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

The voice was unmistakable; the harsh tone sufficient to stop his players in their tracks.

'Listen to me,' barked Alex Neil, after spending the previous five minutes explaining the nuances of the training drill he had in mind for his Norwich City players.

Neil had promised prior to departure his men were not heading to this part of the world for a holiday. The Scot is a man of his word, and during a 90-minute session in sweltering temperatures the only respite in a tortuous morning at the club's Grassau base was to take on badly-needed fluids.

From 10.30am on the dot when head of sports science Nick Davies embarked on a series of fitness drills to the final blast on Neil's whistle this was a high tempo, high intensity session.

Neil and his coaching staff know Norwich must be supremely fit in body and mind to rise to the Premier League challenge. Punishing double sessions in the heat of a German summer are all part of the pay-off to reach that peak for Crystal Palace's opening day visit to Carrow Road.


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The efficiency and the organisation was a testament to Neil and his support staff. Every base was covered, every member of the team knew their role as Neil observed from close quarters. Davies was still forcing City's players to jump higher, move their feet quicker over various obstacles, when Neil took his place in the vicinity.

Wes Hoolahan sought a brief respite in the shade but within 15 minutes the balls were out and the mercurial Irishman was in his element.

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Set against a stunning backdrop in their mountain retreat there was a relaxed feel to the proceedings to counter the discipline and the professionalism. City players formed an orderly queue to eulogise about Neil's training methods on last season's memorable journey to Wembley and it was apparent even from this brief snapshot the hold he has over the group.

A game of keep ball with the squad split into three teams ended with light-hearted punishments for the losers. Bradley Johnson questioned the validity of Jonny Howson's star jumps as Neil implored his players to take on more fluids.

Martin Olsson, training on the adjacent pitch to the rest of his team-mates, had just vacated after escaping Davies' attentions. The Swede's presence must be a source of reassurance for Neil, who knows he must plan for at least the Eagles' opening test without his first-choice left-back.

Cameron Jerome was the only absentee as City's medical staff continue to assess the full extent of the foot injury that forced his early retirement at Cambridge United last week.

Neil's pre-season priority is to minimise injuries, but there was no sense of protection as the session continued at a furious pace.

Jacob Murphy was deployed as an extra man in another split-shift game designed to work on the shape of the numerically disadvantaged side. Cruel it may have been in such weather conditions but there was little sympathy from Neil when he curtly stopped proceedings to forcibly impart his instructions to Russell Martin's collective.

Nathan Redmond rifled two pearlers past Declan Rudd for the red team; Hoolahan got a consoling arm around his shoulder from Neil during a change-over. Davies' clarion call for each group to return for more running drills met with less than universal approval.

Elliott Bennett looked on with a mixture of relief and amusement from the shaded dug-out area reserved for those who had played 90 minutes against Maccabi Haifa on Tuesday.

Neil finally called a halt to proceedings just after midday. The ice towels and fluids were a priceless commodity before the manager delivered one last address. That unmistakable voice again.

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