David Preece: Why I’m starting a new chapter in my life and moving to Sweden
It’s still dark except for an orange band that hovers over the horizon. Below me is the Valderrama golf course where the drama of the 1997 Ryder Cup unfolded, with the hills of Andalusia bearing over it in the background like an over-attentive parent.
It’s breathtakingly beautiful at this time of year with the cooler temperatures and occasional rain turning the surroundings to a vivid green.
Arriving here from the damp greyness of back home feels like nature has switched everything into HD.
It isn’t actually that warm, but still sunny enough for me to burn my freshly-shaven head quite badly. It feels as if someone crept into my room last night and rapped a crowbar over it.
I’ve gone for the full ‘Pep’ look. I even shaved off my trademark beard to allow my face to see the glorious light of the Spanish day too.
Well, not quite all of it off. Above my top lip, I’ve kept my moustache which now makes me look more Basil Fawlty than Tom Selleck but even at 42 I’ve gone down the old tried and tested route in football of trying to get a laugh out of my new work colleagues to endear myself to them.
I’m not sure whether it worked or not but as a result I have become quite attached to it - emotionally as well as literally. Maybe I’ll wait to see my daughter’s reaction at the weekend to see whether I’ll keep it or not.
So what am I doing here then? Well, this is where Östersunds, the Swedish side who beat Arsenal at the Emirates last season in the knockout stages of the Europa League, are on a pre-season training camp.
Their then manager, Graham Potter, has since moved on to take over at Swansea City, and they are now managed by Ian Burchnall. Ian and I have known one another for a couple years after meeting through an ex-teammate of mine in Denmark, who played under him in Norway.
Since then, we’ve kept in touch and, to cut a long story short, I’ve accepted an offer to join his coaching staff. Taking a full-time coaching role wasn’t in my immediate plans but sometimes opportunity intervenes and this was one that I couldn’t pass on.
It’s been four and a half years since my playing days officially came to an end and after some coaching stints and working hard as a nobody trying to carve out a media career in a world full of somebodies, it’s probably a relevant question to ask ‘Why now?’.
Well, first of all it feels right. That was my feeling when I first considered the offer. Over the past few seasons, Östersunds’ profile has risen due to their rise through the divisions in Swedish football which included winning the Swedish Cup and a fairytale Europa League journey which ended at the Emirates in the knockout stages, despite embarrassing Arsenal by beating them on their home turf.
It’s a club in the ascendancy, a club with a clear philosophy of how they play and a clear identity of type of player needed to carry out that style of play.
There is a big English contingent amongst the playing and coaching staff and in the last couple of days, Ravel Morrison has arrived from Lazio with a view to signing a deal with us. And if today’s training session is anything to go by, that would be a huge statement.
I haven’t actually made it to Sweden yet, so I still have the shock of freezing daytimes and nights that fall well into the -20s but that’s all part of the intrigue too.
That, and the impulse to buy loads of Berghaus jackets and Patagonia waterproofs.
The fact that I’m going abroad again was a big factor in my decision-making process too. I’ve had offers to join other clubs at home but I knew at that particular time my family and media commitments would have meant spreading myself too thinly when it came to coaching.
When you commit to it, then you have to go all in and by moving to Sweden alone, I’m giving my focus to football and the club gets all of me, not just a share.
In the quiet moments over a coffee, I feel like a retired mobster. Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in. Only with me, it isn’t kicking and screaming.
Whatever happens in the future, in football or with my media work, I couldn’t see a downside to opening this new chapter and who knows where it could lead to?
So that’s that then. That’s why last week’s column was written from a bus station in Marbella, this one is being done from the lounge of golf resort and next week’s will be my first from Sweden.
By then, we will have played our second friendly of the trip against Russian side Rostov after yesterday’s 0-0 draw with a full-strength Dynamo Kiev.
As a goalkeeper, it’s always nice to start with a clean sheet and it’s just the same as a coach. So here’s to many more over the course of this season.
Wish us luck!