INSIDE ALL STARS CAMP: HOW YOU PREPARE FOR BARCA IN…THREE DAYS

48 hours. 21 players from across the country. No Grand Finalists. Two training sessions.

Dwight Yorke laughs when you pose the reality of his challenge to him ahead of the A-Leagues All Stars’ clash with Barcelona.

“I never take things easy, do I,” he quipped.

Yorke arrived back in Australia over the weekend, while his All Stars contingent entered camp from Sunday evening – fresh from having been opponents for the last six months.

“We’re gelling as much as we can,” explained the side’s captain, Western Sydney’s midfielder Jack Rodwell.

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“It is very important, things like this, breakfast, lunch, dinner, (to) sit and talk for an hour. On the field it is different, it is the only time we can bond, get to know each other.”

Indeed, as KEEPUP spent some time at All Stars HQ ahead of the game, that team building was a key theme amongst a relaxed mood. You can only drill in so many tactics in a session on Monday night, and an hour, in front of fans on a Tuesday.

Melbourne Victory’s Jason Davidson explained: “The good thing is, everyone is getting along.

“Instead of having breakfast and going up to their room and spending their downtime in their room, everyone is having chats, coffees together.

“I have always found most foreigners have found Aussie players easy to get along with. Everyone has good characters; everyone is here with a common purpose, enjoying each other’s time, trying to learn a bit about each other.”

It is unique scenario, Yorke admitted. “I am sure these players play against each other but it is nice to finally think we are team-mates for once,” he said. “That is unique too.”

Davidson’s presence throws up another one of the conundrums Yorke, and his assistants Heather Garriock and Robert Stanton, had to tackle. As late as Monday, the coaching staff were ruling out the likes of Jamie Maclaren, Jamie Young, Ben Garuccio, Leo Lacroix, Mathew Leckie, Curtis Good and Marco Tilio, while a couple of other post-season casualties fell out as well.

Heather Garriock of the A-Leagues All Stars coaching staff gives instructions.
The coaching team of Yorke, Garriock and Stanton.

Then the likes of Davidson, Isaias and Nestroy Irankunda had to dust themselves off after their weekend disappointments. Davidson certainly expected to play in a Grand Final this weekend, not the All Stars.

“I honestly didn’t have that much time; you lose, straight away they asked if I was (going); it was hard because that night I was in a bad mood, frustrated, I wanted to keep an open mind as possible because I didn’t want to make a rash decision especially because of the emotions of the game,” explained Davidson, who was on a flight less than 24 hours after his elimination.

“It is a roller coaster but that is part and parcel of football. You get the highs, you get the lows.”

From Finals Series elimination to promoting the All Stars, for Jason Davidson.

A loss on Saturday night. Packed on Sunday morning. Ready to face Barcelona on Sunday night. “That is one way to move on!”

The team that will need to carry out the instructions is an eclectic one. For example, Rodwell is a coach’s selection; Kuol was picked by the A-Leagues Commissioner as a wildcard, while Davidson was a fan pick – even if the supporters chose the left-back in the centre of a back four!

“We actually talked about games we played against each other, stadiums…things like that,” Rodwell added.

“(There are) a couple of players who I know of, played at similar clubs to me. You bond that way. (Adrian) Mariappa I know from England. Adama (Traore) from Western Sydney. You just start to create little cliques really.”

For Yorke, two days, two weeks, or an entire season – which he will get with Macarthur FC in next season’s A-League Men – doesn’t change one of the key parts of his man management.

“It is not just because it is a short period of time…a key element of the teams I have been in and the success I have got (is): camaraderie and chemistry,” he said.

It has worked here, quickly – for young, and the experienced.

17-year-old Garang Kuol said: “At dinner, everyone’s going around talking to each other. Tables are mixed with different people.”

Garang Kuol of the A-League All Stars

Davidson said: “I didn’t think it would gel so quickly.

“You play against these boys throughout the season…some games are more fierce, bigger rivalries than others…coming into camp everyone has been so nice, there has been a mutual respect and everyone is getting along.

“Dwight has had a very calm (style), the way he has brought everyone together, the way he has spoken, everyone feels calm – and let’s be honest, we’re playing against a big club, people can be nervous.

“But he has come in and everyone is relaxed. We had a good session together, for me it was a tough session two days after a game – that is usually for recovery.”

There has been little time for that, with a tight schedule put together for the 21-man contingent, including media and corporate functions.

While the friendly scenario makes it hard to prepare for a particular XI for the La Liga giant, you know how Barcelona, under Xavi, want to play, and a few focused periods for tactical preparation has also been set aside.

“We prioritise the fact it is Barcelona, the possession based (style), on the ball, like to dictate the pace of the game, they have got very good wingers interacting, they like to play in between the lines of the team and really hurt you in full flow.

“That is how it is but we will make it difficult, certainly for them, with the system, and not concede, and try frustrate them for a period of time and on the positive side, when we have it, we will try make it happen and push them back towards their goal.”

He added: “They might not find it easy (flying in on Tuesday) but Xavi will be saying to them to dictate the ball and the rhythm of the game. We will try and upset that and make it a little bit uncomfortable.”

The lack of time didn’t faze Davidson, however.

“When you get to this kind of level most boys, it is easier to absorb information,” Davidson added.

“Let’s be honest you’re not going to get your tactics in two days – it is about getting a bit of chemistry between the boys.”

The Melbourne Victory left-back says the group have enjoyed a little taste of what might be coming for Macarthur next term, too.

“The biggest thing I picked up from training is that if we’re around the box, he wants us to have a crack, test the goalkeeper,” he said.

“As a striker as prolific as he was, that was the key message I gathered from the first training. If you have an opportunity to shoot have a crack.”

It is Premier League legend Yorke’s first senior managerial game, but the A-Leagues’ inaugural all-star with Sydney FC in 2005 knows the responsibility of this stage, and the opportunity it presents.

But, it also, a huge test for the players: think Memphis, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong, Dani Alves and Marc-Andre Ter Stegen.

“It is a good challenge for us all, really,” former Premier League midfielder Rodwell concluded.

“When I heard about the All Stars, Barcelona, what a challenge for us all…I love (Sergio) Busquets’ game, he is unbelievable I’ve watched him for years. His composure on the ball, his vision, it will be a good challenge. Look forward to that one.”