City's Elite Development Squad has arrived in Croatia for their ten day training camp.
They’re not alone either, in a first for the Club’s Academy; they've been joined by City’s first and second year scholars for their pre-season tour.
With my alarm going off at the eye-rubbing hour of 4am, it was off to Terminal One at Manchester Airport to catch a flight to Venice along with Patrick Vieira and his men on their first trip away together.
When I arrived at the airport at 5.30am, the scale of the travelling party first hit me as a sea of young footballers snaked around velvet ropes at the check-in desk.
From first-year scholars of 16-years old up to players with first-team Football League experience, it was quite the ensemble but one man predictably dominated the attention of the assembled holidaymakers and business people.
After all it’s not every day a World Cup winner is in Manchester Airport departures.
Patrick delighted those brave few who approached for priceless photographic mementos, smiling and shaking hands with all who asked.
It was a short flight from Manchester to Venice of around two and a half hours which flew by (meaning, I slept) and once there we were met by Head of Academy Operations and Administration Neil Roberts and a couple of coaches which transported all 70-plus players and staff to the hotel.
Some spectacular scenery meant that this three-hour transfer passed pleasantly as we crossed the border into Slovenia and then into the Istria region of Croatia.
Positioned on the coast of the Adriatic sea, the hotel in Novigrad is in a beautiful location and as we were shown the excellent facilities available to us, we had to keep reminding ourselves we’re there to work and not for a pre-season holiday!
We are a three-person strong media team dispatched to follow the Elite Development Squad on this trip, comprised of myself, Victoria Haydn (photographer) and Lee Jones (CityTV producer) and we have all been taken aback by how accommodating both the players and coaching staff have been.
At the first training session – a light, limb-loosening affair – we were granted incredible close-hand access as the team worked through a combination of stretches and light ball work under instruction from strength and conditioning’s Matt Cook and skills coach Kristian Wilson.
Though the session was hardly intense and was more an exercise in easing stiffness out of legs, it was still a good first opportunity to observe the dynamic between the coaches and the players and what struck me was just how well this squad seem to know one another.
There’s a real familial vibe and there’s certainly no end of in-jokes, which I suppose shouldn’t be surprising given that so many of them have come up through the age-groups together over a number of years.
After the session ended we made the short walk back to the hotel and listened to Albert Rusnak and Ian Lawlor enter into a passionate debate weighing up the respective merits of their native Slovakia and Ireland.
It’s still the first day, so we decided to sit on the fence on this occasion.
Over dinner, Patrick asked everyone to stand and informed us that it was Mathias Bossaerts’ 17th birthday, and then much to the Belgian defenders’ embarrassment insisted on a room-wide rendition of “Happy Birthday”.
Mathias took it in good spirits and was rewarded with a birthday cake, a party hat and the opportunity to give a brief but well received speech.
With that it was off to catch up on some well-deserved sleep after a day of travelling and training in punishing heat that’s pushing 30 degrees.
Tomorrow it’s a double training day, so we’ll be bringing you more words, pictures and videos from Croatia as the ante ups for Vieira’s men.