In Preciado’s particular vade mecum as a coach, there was a maxim when it came to taking to the field for the purpose of exercising in the daily training sessions; shin guards were as basic and fundamental as their use was obligatory on match days. The shin guards became an essential accessory in the players’ normal day-to-day attire. And it didn’t take long for the members of the first team to see the consequences of this particular measure. It was at the beginning of the pre-season when illusions preceded realities and turned this marked axis of chronology into a space with licence to materialise dreams.

The metallic and sticky heat of the Valencian month of July was a real pity. The Cantabrian coach met with the members of the squad to establish the structural coordinates of the training period ahead of the league opener against Rayo Vallecano. The group met in the gymnasium of the Hotel Olympia in Alboraya. It was the first session of the summer. The last slogan was crystal clear in its concreteness. “And boys, remember that all training sessions are carried out with shin pads on”, exclaimed the deep, husky voice that identified Manuel Preciado. And he concluded by emphasising each word in conclusion; “and they are compulsory”. It is quite possible that the players looked at each other strangely. There are measures that provoke astonishment.

No one remembered an initiative of this magnitude in their previous experiences. And the group included players who had already done at least two laps of their own footballing odometer. In fact, the goalkeepers in that squad, Mora and Aizpurúa, had never taken to the pitch to train in this way. Hence the coach’s reaction. “You play in matches like you train in every training session”. And if there was one component that accentuated Manuel Preciado’s particular style book of training sessions, it was intensity. That aspect seemed non-negotiable.

The coach from Astilleros tried to achieve in each of the training sessions the real scenery that the team would later find in the official competition. On the pitch, there were problems that needed to be unravelled and automatisms that needed to be automated. For this reason, shin pads became a common element in the landscape of the preparatory sessions. And consubstantial to the adoption of this measure was the players’ search for the master formula to mitigate its effects. Shin guards have undergone a remarkable change in recent times. From the materials used to their extension and length.

Everything has changed radically. Now they are made to measure and personalised with images or photos, but a decade ago they were heavier and— very stiff. They were buckled at the ankle and even went over the front of the foot and had a kind of adjustable heel cup. And they weren’t particularly comfortable. So goalkeepers, to take an example, got used to training in long trousers. It wasn’t that they were following a trend set in the eighties by N’Kono as goalkeeper for Espanyol. Nor was it for the sake of comfort. Nor was it to preserve their legs from the falls inherent to their speciality. The explanation was much more mundane. The long trousers made it possible to break the rules established by the coach and avoid the annoying shin guards without punishment. And the players? The trickery reached the outfield players. Some of them made themselves mini shin guards with the obvious aim of passing the dossier, although most of them followed Preciado’s designs.