Exclusive: Sam Morsy reveals Sol Bamba's impact, how he gets on with Matt Crooks and who is the quickest go-karter at Middlesbrough
For Middlesbrough midfielder Sam Morsy this pre-season has been unusually routine.
The 29-year-old joined the Teessiders from Wigan Athletic this time last year and, despite some early setbacks, enjoyed a fine first season at the Riverside Stadium.
Unlike last year, Morsy was part of Boro’s summer training camp in Cornwall, where the side played three friendly matches and stepped up their preparations for the new campaign.
“It’s been the first pre-season for about five years which has been straightforward,” Morsy, an Egyptian international, tells the Mail.
“Last season I was on the verge of moving, everything was up in the air with Wigan, I got a little niggle and then I had Covid so that was a nightmare.
“The year before that I was injured, the year before that I was at the World Cup so I didn’t have a pre-season, the year before that I had Africa Cup of Nation qualifiers so it's been really good to have a proper pre-season.”
Boro boss Neil Warnock has traditionally taken his teams to the South West at this time of the year to work his players hard and help them bond as a group.
Four of the Teessiders’ five new signings, Joe Lumley, Uche Ikpeazu, Lee Peltier and Matt Crooks, made the trip to Cornwall, while former Cardiff defender Sol Bamba has also been training with the squad.
Bamba, 36, is set to be offered a one-year contract at the Riverside in a player/coaching role and has already had an uplifting influence in the dressing room - after overcoming a battle with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma cancer earlier this year.
“What an amazing guy he is,” says Morsy. "I’m presuminging he’s going to sign and he’s just given the place a huge lift.
"His story and having bounced back is an inspiration really. I remember his first training session and thinking wow, he’s a proper player.
"Pelts is another one who will be massive in the dressing room. He’s a great guy, he’s vocal, he’s a leader and is in great shape.
“More importantly he’s just a really, really good person. We have a lot of similar friends and he’s someone you can fully rely on.
“You can't underestimate having these people in the dressing room, that is absolutely huge.”
Boro fans may also wonder how Morsy gets on with former Rotherham midfielder Crooks following the latter’s move to Teesside.
The pair were pictured taunting one another when the Millers beat Boro at the Riverside earlier this year, yet Morsy says their relationship is a healthy one.
"It’s really good,” addes Morsy when asked about his rapport with Crooks. “Again we have a really close mutual friend so obviously I knew what sort of guy he was coming into the club. He’s a really nice guy actually. On the pitch he’s competitive and you do your best to try and help your team win games.
"I’ve really taken to Crooksy, really good lad and I’m hoping he will have a really good season with us."
The week in Cornwall included a go-karting session and the customary Warnock barbeque which helped lift the players’ spirits.
"I think the top three were Woody (Nathan Wood), (Marc) Bola and Tav (Marcus Tavernier),” reveals Morsy when asked who were the quickest go-karters.
"Tav ended up winning because Woody had a crash, but to be fair Woody is really good. It was good fun and we all had a really good time.”
Despite the fun, Boro were made to work hard on the training pitches on a scorching hot week.
"It was nice but it was tough as well,” admits Morsy.
“We were training on the day of the game and that was challenging. We were working hard but the goal is you want to be fatigued.
“But it ticked all the boxes really. I feel like it was very beneficial and what we needed. It’s nice sometimes just to have a change of environment and I feel like everyone benefited from it.”
Warnock will hope the hard work pays off as Boro push for promotion from the Championship this season, yet Morsy is keeping things in perspective.
“If you look at last season, up until the halfway stage we were there, thereabouts,” says the midfielder when asked about challenging for promotion.
"It's not an excuse, I think it’s just reality, I think injuries killed us a little bit and at one time the nucleus of the squad was injured.
“We need strength in depth and listen, sometimes during a season it is going to depend on who comes in. If you have a player who comes in next week and starts the season on fire it’s going to impact you."
In terms of competing at the top end of the Championship, he added: "We are a massive football club, the manager has a reputation of getting promotion. We have a good team, certainly a good eleven, we still need to add.
"I was speaking to Sol and asked about the Cardiff team that got promoted in pre-season and he said no one said anything at all about promotion. They started well and that gave everyone confidence.
"It’s just a case of working hard which we are going to do, I can guarantee the fans that and we are going to dig in and fight for each other.”
"We still need a few more players but I think the environment of the dressing room will allow new players to bed in really well.”
After a promising pre-season, Morsy certainly feels the founations are in place for a successful campaign.