Chance to train is a boon for Bruce
STEVE BRUCE might intend to spend some time working on transfer deals in the coming days, but the Sunderland manager insists his players' fitness levels are his primary concern. Ideally Bruce would like to add a couple of full-backs, a winger and a striker to his ranks before the end of the transfer window, but is unwilling to pay inflated fees. There has also been interest in members of his current squad, with Stoke and Birmingham joining Aston Villa in monitoring Kenwyne Jones' situation. David Healy and Daryl Murphy are possible targets for Middlesbrough. But having yesterday taken his squad to Portugal for warm weather training until Friday, Bruce hopes the majority of his time in the Algarve will be spent on the training ground rather than fielding calls. And after claiming to have been inundated by agents offering him players in recent weeks, he is pleased to be getting some breathing space on the Continent. I don't envisage spending much time on the phone, said Bruce. I'm going to make sure my phone goes away and I spend as much time on the training pitch as possible. That's what I'm going for. Of course I'll get messages and communications. But some of the stuff, like Ryan Babel for Kenwyne Jones, Kenwyne Jones to Stoke, I just can't see it. Since the big freeze hit before Christmas, Bruce's frustration has grown. In the space of three weeks his players had only enjoyed one day of training before Monday's thaw and that had to be done on the Stadium of Light pitch. Now Bruce is looking forward to watching his players in full training for the next few days as they look to end a seven-match winless run in the Premier League at Chelsea on Saturday. We've got nine people recovering from injury and basically they need somewhere to step up their recovery, said Bruce. Gyms are not ideal, beaches are not ideal. We've got some who are cycling champions and Olympic swimmers after the last three weeks and boxers as well. We've done everything we can to keep them all busy but we need to go and play football. We're taking the injured boys along with us, and a week's training under their belt sometimes training twice will hopefully kickstart our season and get them back fit. Sunderland's cause during the winter freeze has not been helped by the absence of an indoor surface at the Academy of Light, although the city council's planning committee recently recommended consent for a new facility. But, while grateful for progress on that front, he also admits that playing on grass will benefit his squad this week, even if he would have preferred to have remained on Wearside. Indoor areas are great for one or two days but when you're recovering from injuries it's not ideal, said Bruce, knowing there are few Premier League clubs faced with such a problem. I'm not one for changing the scenery. Football's all about routine, replication, preparation for next week. There was a bit of a thaw so we could train on Monday but if we hadn't, all of a sudden we'd have gone three-anda- half weeks just training once outside at the stadium. It's been unbelievable. It's been a really long stretch. We trained on the beach on December 22 and two or three of them felt their calves. It's been a long three weeks. It's vitally important we can go away. We're not going anywhere hot but it's 15C and we'll be able to train on a grass surface. That's the most important thing. One notable inclusion on the flight to Portugal yesterday which was deemed turbulent by Sunderland striker Darren Bent was Craig Gordon. The goalkeeper has been out of action since breaking an arm in a collision with Jermain Defoe at Tottenham in November, but has started full training again. The Scotland international could return to first team action by the end of the month. Sunderland will face Brighton or Everton in the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup should they defeat Preston at the Stadium of Light a week today.
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