Five cruel ways pre-season friendlies lie to us

Starved of meaningful football we project importance and worth onto a series of post-holiday kickabouts, Stephen Tudor wonders when we’ll ever learn.

That they matter. At all.

We begin with the biggest whopper of them all, a porkie so grandiose in scale it would make a Tory minister blanch.

So starved are we for any meaningful football after a long summer of golf matches and tennis innings that the sight of our team in a spanking new kit squaring up to Portland Timbers or Brisbane Roar suddenly takes on a huge significance.

We take time off work and set the alarm clock for some ungodly hour because this matters. This actually matters. Each spurned chance is railed against, every wayward pass a harbinger of a disappointing season to come.

In reality though, these fixtures are little more than a glorified gym session with the players and management far more interested in increasing their respiratory muscle capacity and reducing lactic acid in the legs than, y’know, the actual result of the game.

Silverware

After thrashing a Singapore Select XI in their national stadium Arsenal proved themselves slightly fitter than Everton at this stage of proceedings to bashfully lift the 2015 Barclays Asia Trophy.

Whereupon the commentator said – and I quote – “Arsenal win their first silverware of the season”. Really? Because if that’s how low we’re now setting the bar that isn’t even true. We heard Per Mertesecker recently won the egg and spoon race at his son’s school sports day.

The false promise of youth

With your South American contingent still absent following the Copa America and several more superstars being granted a gradual return to the fray it offers your gaffer a rare opportunity to blood a few kids on tour. This is an entirely welcome development with surely no downside? Wrong. There is a huge downside.

The pups enthusiastically bark into tackles but otherwise show composure beyond their tender years. They generally impress and just ninety minutes is enough to convince you that your club have uncovered the next Class of 92.

That wondergoal Vine from a previously unheard of Spanish prodigy gets you briefly dreaming you’ve found the next Messi. The way the scrawny local lad nonchalantly megs the Italian with over a hundred caps makes you firmly believe there is no further need to chase that megabucks midfielder.

This is all a cruel delusion.

The youngsters in question will get as close as you will to the first team from August onwards and the next time you’ll hear their names they will be struggling to break into a Wycombe side on a three month loan.

Experimental 4-2-4

Last season it was all so predictable. A pivot, box-to-box and advanced midfielder making up a central trio; two inverted wingers and a big man up top. At times it felt like your manager had skim-read Pep Confidential and misunderstood all of it.

If only your full-backs had dared cross the halfway line once in a while the plan may have worked. But they didn’t and it didn’t.

Suddenly though, here they are in an entirely unfamiliar experimental formation designed for all-out attack. Watch out defences, we’re coming for you! It’s going to be carnage with goals aplenty.

The opening day of the campaign, however, sees your side reverting back to the tried and trusted, its brief flirtation with adventure akin to a one-night stand with a Greek waiter only without the STDs to accompany the hazy memories of playing two up front.

We’re going to win the league

Dismissing a Walsall side splattered with trialists before battering a hapless Hitchen Town 8-0 gives you the warm glow of optimism only July can offer.

All of your team’s flaws and foibles from last term are instantly forgotten and despite this being virtually the same eleven who meekly rolled over at Stoke and Sunderland it has now transformed into a hardened group of world-beaters. The magical powers of a few week’s rest, hey.

The opening fixture sees this bunch of losers painfully abject and submissive at the Brittania and you hate yourself for your annual bout of the stupids.

A prima donna shines

Last year your 28-year-old ‘wonderkid’ from Argentina did little more than hopelessly fail with a few showboaters while flicking his luscious hair from his piercing Latin eyes. Putting in a shift was anathema to this extravagantly gifted trickster as too was actually showing more than an occasional glimpse of his extravagant gifts.

Now, though, he is a man reborn, tracking back, laying off simple balls, eschewing the spectacular for the effective and what’s this? A tackle. He only went and flipping well made a tackle.

It doesn’t last of course. Once he’s secured his first team place once more the flicks, shrugs, and strolling return like the learned behaviour of a doped-up lab-rat.

“He just needs a solid pre-season” you recall saying to your mate around Christmas. You were wrong.