Keith Hill has issued a challenge to Rochdale’s younger players to be ready for first-team football from the start of the new campaign.
The Dale players who aren’t due to report back for their pre-season until June 24 have all been given a personal training programme which Hill expects them to follow.
And despite the odd high profile case of players returning for pre-season training overweight most players know that these days staying in tip top shape during the off season is a perquisite of their job.
“The players aren’t in a position where they’ve gone away for four to six weeks and not thought about their physical conditioning,” Hill told the Manchester Evening News. “They’ll be reasonably fit coming into pre-season.”
“What we have got is a lot of young players who we feel need conditioning physically, mentally, tactically and technically, and a certain amount of that is being done over the summer to give them the best opportunity of playing in the first team next season.”
“There’s a development squad, within our squad, of young players who’ll be playing on a regular basis next season and we’ve got to make sure those players are on the starting line coming into pre-season.”
“I don’t want them catching up physically, so they’ll be doing a lot of work this summer in preparation to be first-team players.”
“They include the likes of Rhys Bennett and Joe Rafferty, they’re still players that need developing. If you look at Reece Gray, he’s in a position now where he can’t really have the summer off. He’s really got to be kicking on so he’s ready for next season.”
“Those type of players need a lot of development and it’s a question of making sure that they make the most of this six to eight-week period between now and pre-season.”
Although Bennett and Rafferty played regularly last season, it was their first in the Football League, while Gray made just his second League start in the final game against Plymouth. The 20-year-old had been out almost all season after suffering a serious leg injury in pre-season.
While some of the younger members of Hill’s squad acclimatise to the requirements of being full-time professionals they will at least have former Academy boss Chris Beech to call on.
Beech who was formally named as Hill’s assistant last week has spent the last 6 years developing the club’s youth infrastructure as well as providing a guiding hand to those that have reached the first-team.
“I see the role as assisting a manager who’s a strong leader, to make sure he has the capability of leading to the best of his ability, and it’s something I adapted to from January to the end of the season.”
“I’d been leading the Academy, which I have done for numerous years both here and at Bury, but it’s a good opportunity for me – working with somebody who’s very knowledgeable and, in my opinion, is a Premier League manager.”
“He’s got a very open mind to progressive football, to developing people, developing teams and progressing the product. They’re the traits I’ve had with the youth system so in that way we’re very similar.”