VIDEO: Evolution of training ground is crucial to City's transfer work
- Credit: Danielle Booden
The arrival of the innovative SoccerBot 360 is the latest step in Norwich City’s plan to continue striving for improvements to the club’s training ground.
Christened the Lotus Training Centre as part of a sponsorship deal two years ago, the site at Colney has been totally rejuvenated since the days of stacked modular buildings and cramped conditions.
Much of that work was completed in 2019 prior to the Covid-19 pandemic but it was only on Thursday that joint majority shareholders Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones were able to officially open the revamped facilities – as the SoccerBot 360 was unveiled.
The majority of funding was secured via the £5million swiftly raised via the Canaries Bond scheme, when over 700 investors took up the offer of favourable interest rates and the potential of a 25 per cent bonus if the club was promoted to the Premier League, which paid off for them at the end of 2018-19.
That scheme allowed the self-funded Canaries to raise the capital required to significantly raise standards at Colney, where first team and academy players and staff spend the majority of their time – with senior staff admitting that potential transfer signings had been deterred in the past due to the unimpressive surroundings.
The site is totally different to seven years ago, when Neil Adams was manager of the first team, who has recently been promoted to the role of assistant sporting director.
“I always judge it by how players react,” said the former Canaries winger. “What does Ben Gibson think when he walks through the door?
“What do Josh Sargent, Christos Tzolis and Milot Rashica think when they walk in? That’s what I look for and when they come in and say ‘wow’ then that’s when we know we’re doing something right here.
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“The people that have been here have seen it evolve and develop, and we’re no less impressed and enthused by it than anybody.
“But when you get a player in for the very first time and we show them around, it’s a big element of satisfaction for us when they say it is top, top drawer.
“Some of the players we have signed have played for huge clubs and to see that we’re competing and doing the best we can – obviously we’re not Chelsea or Man City – but from what it was to what it is now is a huge sense of pride for us all.”
City also confirmed their plans for the next stage of development in recent days, having applied for planning permission for a ‘recovery hub’ which will feature a swimming pool and aqua therapy areas.
Further work would see an administration and media building constructed, continuing the smart wooden cladding which has given the site a modern feel, but will only be able to go ahead once funds are secured.
“You can see the improvements we’ve already had, which has been incredible over the last four years. We’ve outlined the plans for the recovery centre and the admin block as well,” Adams continued.
“The plans are there but when they get implemented will be determined by which division we’re in and finances.
“We don’t want to stop with the SoccerBot. We’re immensely proud that we’re the first club in the country to have one. Again, time will tell whether everyone will have one in two or three years’ time or will it just be us.
“It’s important we don’t stop.”
The building which houses the SoccerBot 360 is the latest edition to the campus, with senior staff, guests from Lotus and media attendees given a demonstration of the technology on Thursday, with under-23 players taking part in some of the drills.
Developed by a German firm, up to four adults or eight children can participate at a time, surrounded by screens at 360 degrees, projecting various different challenges, games and visualisations and recognising when footballs hit targets.
Focused on improving cognitive behaviours, the technology has been developed for professional use for four key areas: talent identification, player development, injury rehabilitation and match analysis.
Costing around £250,000 as part of an investment of around £750,000 overall for City, including building work, the technology will continue to improve as the software is updated in the years ahead.
Staff at Colney are currently getting to grips with the best ways to make use of the new facility, with Adams continuing: “We’ve been excited about it for a couple of years now. I first saw it two years ago in Germany on the pre-season tour.
“We looked at it and thought, is this just going to be a gimmick, like a fancy PlayStation? Or is it going to add value to the football club?
“We quickly decided that not only would it interest players from eight years old right through to Teemu Pukki and experienced players, it will also develop them as players.
“I think in five years’ time, with the software developing and how clever technology is, it’s got the potential to go on and on again.
“Already we’ve seen the buy-in from players, they can’t wait to get in."
Todd Cantwell is among the senior players to investigate and have a sneak peek as the finishing touches have been put in place in recent weeks but the SoccerBot won’t be taking any credit for Premier League improvements just yet.
Asked how the technology will be used by the first team from now, Adams concluded: “It’s to be determined really. It’s how that will integrate with the first-team coaching staff. We’re imagining there’s going to be a huge demand for it, so there will have to be scheduling around it.
“We’ve got 10 academy teams who will all want to use it, plus the first team as well. Obviously the first team will take priority and the academy will work around that.
“How and how often it is used, I really can’t give an answer because it’s literally just been opened and some of the first team players won’t have seen it in action yet.
“I’m pretty sure once the first team staff see it, they will recognise the value of it and it’s up to them whether they use it daily, weekly or whatever.”
- You can see the SoccerBot 360 in action and our full interview with Neil Adams in the videos above