Bristol City assistant head coach Chris Hogg has called new Robins signing Yu Hirakawa a “beautiful human being” following the Japanese’s winger’s arrival at their pre-season training camp in Portugal.

Hirakawa was confirmed as a City player earlier this week, joining initially on loan from Machida Zelvia and after undergoing a medical at the High Performance Centre and the necessary media duties at Ashton Gate, he boarded a plane to Faro to meet his new teammates.

The 23-year-old has been with the group since Tuesday for a vitally important few days as he’ll then travel to France to compete for Japan in the Paris Olympics before returning to Bristol for the Championship campaign.

Without this time away with the squad in the Algarve, he would have been missing a key opportunity to integrate himself and familiarise himself with the various personalities that make up the team, the general culture and the expectations of the coaching staff.

Already the winger seems to have made an impression, just with his attitude and personality around the camp with the official club channels sharing some charming moments as he was welcomed to the group and how he’s been interacting with everyone.

“It’s one of the main objectives, building that connection, the cohesion with the relationships around the team,” Hogg said. “It’s been great to get that. Yu has come out, and to see him as part of the group.

“Obviously there’s a bit of a language barrier at the minute but I have to say he’s a beautiful human being who wants to connect and speak. Google Translate’s been out a little bit in terms of getting my Japanese going, and I know the gaffer’s been the same.”

Hirakawa is on a different schedule to the majority of the players out in Portugal given he’s halfway through the season as the J-League campaign runs from late February until early December, so his conditioning is at a completely different point to the rest of the squad.

As a result, his is about maintaining what’s already in his legs, rather than necessarily building him up, with at least three matches at the Olympics around the corner – Japan are in a group alongside Paraguay, Mali and Israel.

Hogg also hinted that when he returns to the HPC, which could be any time from July 31-August 9, depending on how Japan fare at the Games, the expectation will be for him to be ready to play, rather than being afforded additional time off.

“His schedule is a lot different, he’s 20+ games already at this point, in the last couple of months, and he’s preparing for the Olympics,” Hogg added. “So he’s come in, he’s had a different schedule, it’s our job really to modify him and make sure he gets what he wants, and what he needs, more importantly, ready to be as fresh as possible and hit the ground running when he comes back to us after being away again.”

New striker Fally Mayulu is also experiencing his first time away with the squad, ensuring the best possible period of adaptation following his signing from Rapid Vienna. The 21-year-old is rooming with Anis Mehmeti, Stefan Bajic and Ayman Benarous and despite the disappointment of France’s defeat to Spain in the Euro 2024 semi-finals is settling in nicely.

“I think he’s found some of the work hard, which has been good to see,” Hogg said. “I have to say he’s a good, solid personality, good, solid character.

“He’s getting used to my accent, which a few people tend to struggle with – I don’t know how Yu is going to get along with it – but he’s worked really well, he’s got some real clear attributes and strengths and he’s done a good job in connecting with people in and around the group and I know the lads have been speaking highly of him as well. It’s great to have him aboard and hopefully he can continue to flourish.”

City’s travelling party also includes some academy players who could make a more sustained first-team breakthrough in 2024/25, with goalkeeper Josey Casa-Grande, defender Josh Campbell-Slowey, midfielder Tommy Backwell and winger Elijah Morrison present.

“It’s really nice seeing the lads who were with us last year coming back and you kind of get going a bit quicker because we formed the relationships in the 6-7 months we were here last year,” Hogg said.

“We’ve got a few young players who you seen integrating into the group and how the other players react to that, taking them under their wing. There are some good signs but I think if you interviewed every coach, every management team at this point of the season, they’d be going, ‘yeah, it’s great’. It’s been really good, really enjoyable and that’s why you do it, it’s the people you work with and we’ve got some good people.”

City’s work has been a combination of fitness, tactical and match-related exercises, plus some natural team bonding, in steadily building the group up to their first pre-season friendly against Newport County on July 23, with the season-opener at Hull City on August 10. The club did hold an internal 11vs11 game, with Hogg admitting everyone was “chomping at the bit” to be involved in.

“Since day one we try and drop in our principles and how we want to play, everything is around our behaviours with the ball and without the ball,” Hogg said. “So the first couple of weeks has been based on out-of-possession work and some of the stuff we look for in the units and then linked to the team, the concepts we try and work on.

Bristol City assistant head coach Chris Hogg (Photo by Jake Kirkman/Bristol City)

“For me, it’s around building that physical base with the ball and doing as much as we can with the football which the staff do a great job of supplementing that and Andy Kavanagh has done some isolated conditioning but we try and do as much as we can with the football to try and make it real, try and give players decisions straight from the start and get working on how we want to play.

“We’ve done 11vs11 at three-quarter pace, so we build it up in terms of the physical objectives, so today’s the first time we freed off the pitch and you can see the lads are chomping at the bit to get back into games and to get going again; intensity, attitude, everything like that was great from them.

“I have to say it’s a terrific group to work with, you’re almost having to rein them back at times in terms of the tackles and stuff.”

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