Craig Hignett‘s long-held ambition of becoming a manager was finally realised in February when Hartlepool United handed him the task of steering the club away from relegation danger.
After managing that feat in some style, Hignett has quickly gone about rebuilding the team with the aim of challenging at the right end of League Two this season.
And the former Pools and Middlesbrough number two is clearly relishing his time in charge.
Beaming in the summer sunshine, Hignett and his revamped squad hosted the press at the club’s Maiden Castle base in Durham on day two of pre-season training.
And the Hignett effect was clear to see.
This is no old school pre-season training programme with players tasked with running miles to build their fitness.
No, the footballs were out straight away as new signings Padraig Amond, central defender Toto Nsiala, attacking midfielder Nicky Deverdics and forward Lewis Alessandra quickly got accustomed to their new surroundings and teammates.
The training field was divided into three working areas, with Hignett taking one group and number two Curtis Fleming overseeing the other, while the goalkeepers worked separately under Tony Caig.
Short, sharp, intense sessions, focused on touch, technique, building fitness, power and pace.
The players were enjoying it and Hignett - who has taken some inspiration from his days training the Boro squad at Rockliffe Hall - was pleased with the condition his players had returned in.
“There’s a lot of planning gone into what we are doing for the next six weeks, it’s about getting out and doing it,” said Hignett.
“Pre-season is key – it’s vital for everyone.
“It’s all done for a reason, we aren’t just doing it to make the players sick and suffer.
“There’s a method behind it and we are bedding principles down as we do it.
“By the time the season comes about everyone will know their jobs, and what we expect.
“We don’t want to kill them and make them leggy for the season, so there’s a balancing act and we monitor their workloads.
“We have GPS monitors to keep their work recorded – and work out the lazy ones!
“We have brought some new players in and it can take time to bed in, but they will be fine.
“When they come back from Tenerife everyone will know each other inside out. It’s a big week for building team spirit.
“I’m really pleased how they have come back and some look a lot leaner than when they left, which is pleasing.
“They’ve made an effort to get themselves fit.
“They all had tailored programmes for summer and you know who has stuck to it!”
Hignett is very much his own man and having worked under Colin Cooper and Aitor Karanka, he firmly believes now is his chance to shine.
“I did a pre-season at Middlesbrough and a lot of what we are doing here is taken from there,” added Hignett.
“It works and I know the lads enjoy it.
“It’s not monotonous and there’s a method to it, but I’ve added my own bits too.
“Different teams need different things, there may be a lot of defensive and fitness drills going on in pre-season, but I’m a bit different and I like to attack a bit more so I’ll tailor that to being a bit freer in how we play.
“There needs to be a balance and I’m attack-minded, Curtis is more defensive.
“I’ve wanted this for a long time, the chance to build a squad in my own way and have my own pre-season.”