It is widely know that the results of pre-season games mean very little. Cliché after cliché is rolled out about it being about the performance, or ‘gelling’ a new side and various other such cringe-worthy comments that roll off the tongues of football managers like lies from a politician. Pre-season results don’t really mean all that much, but the fitness of players needs to be maintained in the weeks preceding the campaign. Maybe it’s that players don’t work hard enough without the idea of a real fixture, but these pseudo-competitive tournaments are becoming increasingly tiresome as we see celebrities pose with endless Premier League footballers as if they have supported the club for decades.
Several managers have had their say on what they would like to do in pre-season, but crucially, making sure their men get enough rest is absolutely vital to the success of the first few weeks. With each season appearing to end later and later (and the detestable post-season friendlies) the time for rest over summer is decreasing year on year and each pre-season tournament halfway around the world closes down the window for summer relaxation.
The Copa America this summer has left several players missing much of their pre-season excitement, but would this be a problem if they didn’t insist on travelling to another corner of the world?
The Barclays Asia Trophy has recently come to an end and, with three Premier League clubs competing, one of which faced a near walk-through game against a local ‘all-star’ team which just reflected the intensity of the whole ‘tournament’ as a whole. Maybe the training in heat and humidity is beneficial to pre-season preparations, but the whole façade always seems based on building the profile of the club from a business perspective rather than increasing chances of victory on the pitch.
The business benefits of these tournaments are obvious and clubs are being demanded to be run more and more like businesses with the effects of FFP. However, managers have voiced concerns at the planning of pre-season tours that they feel are not helpful to their preparation. If Chelsea or Manchester City want to play Roma or Real Madrid in a pre-season friendly, the additional travel to Melbourne of Los Angeles seems hard to justify to fitness coaches and physios.
By all means, looking to build the club from a business point of view makes sense, but the impact on the team’s conditioning should not be overlooked. The travel times might not have a particularly negative effect on players, but if managers are unable to run pre-season as they want to it cannot be good for the squad.
Managers rely heavily only the start to a season and often do not recover if they have a particularly bad first month or two. Slightly competitive football may be a necessity for some managers, but there are undoubtedly occasions where the commercial obligations of trips to Australasia or North America have had a negative effect on the players.
Ultimately, very minor pre-season tournaments, like the Barclays Asia Trophy or Emirates Cup, have little to no effect on helping players to hit the ground running. It may well help to sell grounds out around the world, but the false competitive image should be no justification for the money making ventures to the Far-East or LA.