Expensive game of catch-up

The English way: Middlesbrough and Leeds
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Of all the overseas trips Bryan Robson has made in his three years as a manager perhaps the most significant has been to Amsterdam. It was not a shopping expedition, not for players anyway. As Adrian Bevington, spokesman for Middlesbrough, pointed out: "If we're going to bring in the best players here, the likes of Ravanelli and Juninho, we've got to give them the best facilities."

Robson led a delegation of Middlesbrough's management, coaching and executive staff to inspect Ajax's training complex. He has also been behind the scenes at Juventus and other Italian clubs. "Bryan has spent a lot of time and effort inspecting major facilities overseas," Bevington said. "We hope to develop what he wants."

Middlesbrough have bought a site to develop at Hurworth in Darlington. In the meantime, like several other Premiership clubs, they are having to make do and mend while their literal building plans catch up with their team-building. Ravanelli and Juninho, and Emerson when he's been around, train at Tollsby Road, which was Teesside Polytechnic's sports ground until Middlesbrough bought it for their youth team to play on. They have also used the facilities at Kirklevington open prison this season.

The bricks and mortar of a suitable weekday working home are, in Middlesbrough's case at least, more urgently required than a youth development programme to match those administered by the big Continental clubs. "We have gained a reputation as a buying side," Bevington said, "but that's only half the story. We have a strong youth development set-up." Middlesbrough, indeed, has been regarded as a fertile nursery since Jack Charlton's management days at Ayresome Park, and the club's success in the Northern Intermediate League last season, plus the graduation of first year YTS player Andy Campbell to Premiership level at 16, suggests the tradition is an enduring one.

Some 60 miles south, though, tangible evidence can be found of the catching up Middlesbrough have to do. The 16 trainees on the books at Leeds United are housed at a hostel within the state-of-the art training complex that will be remembered as the last shrewd acquisition of the Howard Wilkinson era. The Thorp Arch training centre stands just off the A1 near Wetherby. Behind the iron gates and the security guards is everything a Premiership coach could ask for.

David Williams, Leeds's first-team coach, could not be more content with his new workplace. "We've been here since the start of the season," the former Welsh international midfielder said, "and I'd have to say we're pretty pleased with it. We've got grass pitches, a floodlit Astroturf pitch, a small gym, a medical treatment room, changing-rooms, an office, a canteen, the hostel . . .It's a big turnaround from 12 months ago. We reported to Elland Road every day and trained on the pitches at the back of the car park.

"I think it's good that we stay away from the ground now and go in fresh on match days. It's not the same when you're using the changing rooms every day. From a psychological point of view, I think it's much better. No disrespect to Joe Public, but the fact that we train in private now also helps. We're in a quiet, cut-off location and we can concentrate on getting on with our work. Before, anyone could come and watch us and see the set-pieces we were working on for the next match."

Nowadays the spies are welcome by invitation only. And free-kicks were the last thing on Peter Reid's mind when he visited the Leeds training ground two months ago. He was there to check out the latest model, Thorp Arch.