Aberdeen face the most important period of the 2021-22 season this month – before a ball is even kicked competitively.
Summer pre-season training at Cormack Park can make, or break, the season.
Manager Stephen Glass has a month of preparation before the Uefa Conference League clash with BK Hacken on Thursday July 22.
However, pre-season is about so much more than being ready to face the Swedish side in that second qualifying round opener.
This is an absolutely vital month for Glass and his coaching staff to prepare the new-look squad for the high-tempo, pressing, fast-attacking style of football he aims to bring.
The next month is not just about being ready for the clash against the Gothenburg side.
It is about creating a core fitness that will enable the Dons to play at an intensity that will deliver Glass’ high-tempo game for an entire 90 minutes, potentially two or three times a week, for the whole of the season.
The fitness that will see them through the tough, congested winter fixture schedule will effectively be built on the training pitches at Cormack Park this summer.
It will also offer Glass the opportunity to fully integrate the new signings into his way of playing and instill his footballing philosophy into the entire squad.
Glass inherited a team that had underperformed last season and is in the process of creating a side to deliver the football he wants.
He only had a handful of games, and limited training sessions, at the end of last season to integrate that into the players he inherited – and has retained.
Glass has opted to do the entirety of the Dons’ pre-season preparation within the safety of the Covid-19 bio-secure bubble at Cormack Park.
That gives Glass real autonomy on what he can do with the squad.
Crucially it also eradicates any unwanted risk of Covid-19 seeping into the training camp, which could disrupt pre-season preparations.
🎥 Go behind the scenes for day one of pre season training at Cormack Park.
Watch in full on RedTV where you can also hear from Jack Gurr & Henry Apaloo. ⤵️
— Aberdeen FC (@AberdeenFC) June 21, 2021
Why travel overseas to Europe or the Republic of Ireland as previous managers have done when Glass has the use of the club’s state-of-the-art training complex?
Not only would decamping an entire squad to another country be a needless added expense, it would also increase the risk of a Covid-19 disruption.
The positive test for Scotland and Chelsea midfielder Billy Gilmour during Euro 2020 only highlighted how vulnerable football, like society, remains to the virus.
Glass is already well into his rebuild by securing Scott Brown, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Scotland international defender Declan Gallagher, Jack Gurr and Teddy Jenks.
However, he is far from finished and a consistent goal scorer capable of hitting around 20 goals a season is a necessity.
Emmanuel-Thomas is a talented player and can score spectacular goals – but he is not a 20-goal-a-season hit-man and could be equal provider and scorer.
The Dons have thrashed out a fee with Major League Soccer for Houston Dynamo striker Christian Ramirez and have also agreed personal terms with the United States international.
All that remains is securing a work permit for the 30-year-old.
If Ramirez arrives at Pittodrie, can he be that 20-goal-a-season hitman?
Threat of Swedish side BK Hacken
Aberdeen’s European opponents BK Hacken may be rock-bottom of the Swedish top flight, but they cannot be underestimated.
The Gothenburg side are propping up the table, but still reached the Swedish cup final recently where they lost out in a penalty shoot-out to Hammarby before the league went into a summer break.
That suggests that, despite their poor league form, they are a side capable of grinding out results in cup competitions.
Not only that, they have also changed manager during the summer shut-down.
After four years at the helm, Andreas Alm was replaced with former Norway manager Per-Mathias Hogmo.
His introduction could be a catalyst for an upturn in fortunes.
Hogmo has a strong pedigree and will have a number of weeks to work with the squad ahead of the clash with the Reds.
BK Hacken also have also shown they can compete at Euro level and drew games Netherlands’ AZ Alkmaar in 2019 and Germany’s RB Leipzig the year before.
Although they ultimately exited on aggregate to both teams, it nevertheless underlines their danger.
BK Hacken have Swedish internationals such as Rasmus Lindgren, Peter Abrahamsson, Alexander Jeremejeff, Erik Friberg, Martin Olsson, Daleho Irandust and Gustav Berggren.
Defender Joona Toivio has started for Finland in the Euro 2020 finals and is capped more than 70 times for his country.
Aberdeen will need to be on the top of their game against potentially dangerous opposition to progress.
Will Fury-Joshua ever happen?
I have real concerns a heavyweight unification fight between Britain’s Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua will never happen.
If this clash ultimately falls by the wayside, it will be a disgrace as barriers should have been negotiated to set up this fight.
A proposed bout between the British fighters on August 14 in Saudi Arabia was called off.
It fell through after an arbitration hearing ruled Fury must first face American Deontay Wilder on July 24.
Who cares about a third fight between Fury and Wilder? Not me.
Fury defeated Wilder so convincingly in their second fight it left no “what ifs” or calls for yet another rematch.
We all want to see Fury-Joshua. Please make it happen before it is too late.