Insight into Middlesbrough's Portugal training camp as Finn Azaz reflects on 'amazing' summer

Finn Azaz in pre-season training for Middlesbrough
-Credit: (Image: Middlesbrough FC)

Finn Azaz is hoping he can make the most of his first proper pre-season for four years to kick on and make the necessary improvements at Middlesbrough this summer.

Joining in January from Aston Villa, the attacking midfielder was just starting to come into his own in a Boro shirt as last season drew to a close. After a difficult start to life on Teesside, he ended the season with two goals and four assists from the final six games.

Having spent much of his recent years going out on loan while waiting for a breakthrough from Villa's academy, having a proper pre-season is not something he's often been blessed with. But hoping to really establish himself at Boro next season and show the kind of form he had at Plymouth Argyle that attracted the club to him in the first place, Azaz is hoping pre-season can be particularly useful for him.

READ MORE: Michael Carrick analyses Finn Azaz's Middlesbrough potential after 'more to come' assessment

Speaking from Boro's training camp in Portugal, Azaz told the club website: “It’s nice to be back. This is my first proper pre-season in maybe like four years now. It’s nice to actually come back to the same group, people that I already know etc.

“I wasn’t really sure what it would be like coming to Portugal - like what the sessions would be like and stuff. I’ve not done the trip before. My focus is just on getting through the sessions and I’m also hoping to use pre-season to work on a few things that I really want to improve on from last season.

"It’s gone really well so far and you do look forward to the games coming. We’ve got a few friendlies coming up and it’s not long until we start the season. Everything’s been good so far, the sessions have been good and we’ve been pushing each other through them as a group. I can’t wait for the start of the season now.”

Azaz won't have too long to wait either. The new season is approaching quickly, with Boro's opener at home to Swansea City a little over four weeks away now. Their first friendly of the summer comes this Saturday too, when they play Vitoria SC in a behind-closed-doors training game to wrap up their week-long stay in the Algarve.

It'll be the start of what has already been an exciting summer for the 23-year-old since wrapping up last campaign by helping Boro to a 3-1 victory over Watford. Before being able to enjoy his break, Azaz was heading for international duty as he made his first start for the Republic of Ireland in a 2-1 victory over Hungary.

“I’ve had a really interesting summer," he reflected. "I went away and made my full debut for my country, so it’s been a really good summer. It was amazing. And to get the win as well, get another camp in getting to know all of the lads, it was great.”

International duty meant that the former Argyle man was a week later back to pre-season training at Boro, along with other international stars Emmanuel Latte Lath, Seny Dieng and Anfernee Dijksteel. As a result, the trip to Portugal this week comes in what is week two of pre-season for them, rather than week three for the rest of the group. But having been given a personal training schedule, Azaz felt no problem getting up to speed.

“It’s been a little different for us international lads this summer because we came back a week later," he said. "But we had some sessions to do while we were still off. You miss the first week in terms of being around the lads, but we still had to do the running!

"I personally did my sessions, so it wasn’t too hard to then come back into the group. There was about a week where they kind of looked after us a bit at first, but now we’re fully back in."