FOOTBALL: Now it's time to get serious, says Michael Duberry

Speed merchant: Harry Kewell

Speed merchant: Harry Kewell

First published in Sport

The first game of the season is nearly upon us, the anticipation is over and we have our football back.

Saturday afternoons can return to normal.

The first game of the season is a great day for both players and fans. Just like no fan wants to miss the opening match of a new campaign, neither does any player.

Whether it’s becaue of an injury or you’re just not selected, missing out on the first game of the season is deflating, to say the least.

As a player, when you come back on day one of pre-season training, it’s all geared towards that all-important opener. It’s the reason why you run during your summer break and hit the gym weeks before you are supposed to return.

It’s all about those tests on the first few days, secretly and quietly setting yourself a target of beating the times and scores of the rival for your position.

It’s about letting everyone know that you have come back fit and you have worked during the break – even though some players tend to deny they have done anything during the summer and would like people to believe they got fitter while lying on a sun lounger. Trust me when I say that ALL players have the first game of the season in their head during their summer break.

The single-mindedness kicks in and it’s all about your progression over the course of the pre-season.

The long runs and tests were not much good for me and I always found them hard – no matter how much work I had done over the summer.

In all my years, I would say that Dennis Wise and Muzzy Izzet were the best long distant runners I have seen, by a long way.

I loved it when the short power runs came into play, as that’s where I was very strong.

I have played with some fast players, but Harry Kewell, Shane Long and Leroy Lita spring to mind as the best ones in sprint and power runs.

When the footballs come out, its another chance for players to show the manager and his staff that there is no ring-rust to their game I t was great when the friendlies started, it’s the best way you can show any manager you should be in his starting XI for the opening day.

The matches usually start with the opposition being light and fairly easy and as fixtures progressed, the opposition becomes tougher.

Pre-season results can sometimes give a false indication of how a club’s fortunes will pan out.

I have played in teams that have been on fire and not lost any in friendlies, but when the league action got under way we struggled to win a game.

I’ve also been a member of teams that stuttered in pre-season and couldn’t win a game, but then sparked into life and didn’t lose for ages.

Individually, it’s gives you confidence knowing you have had a strong pre-season.

The most important bit of information players want to know is if they are figuring in the opening game. It can elate or deflate you. Those who get the nod to play will be happy and pleased that all that work has been rewarded.

You can’t beat walking out in your brand new kit on a lovely sunny opening day. The pitch is at its best and the crowd are as noisy and excited as you are.

The only thing that comes close is walking off after the game with the three points in the bag.

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