PR Season in Full Swing

Ashley Young opened the scoring for Manchester United in front of 109,000 fans in Michigan

Ashley Young opened the scoring for Manchester United in front of 109,000 fans in Michigan

After a short post-World Cup break, football teams across Europe are well into their pre-season preparations for the upcoming campaign. But just how much do those teams tailor their preparations to the needs of their players and staff, as opposed to replenishing their not so empty coffers?

Just this weekend Arsenal are participating in their own annual event, the Emirates Cup, while Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City have been competing in the United States against other European giants including Roma, Real Madrid and Inter Milan. West Ham and Newcastle have both been halfway across the world to sample a taste of Kiwi football in New Zealand, with the both teams deciding that the 46-hour round trip wasn’t quite enough traveling for one summer as they’ve since been to Germany for yet more friendlies.

It’s a far cry from years gone by when teams would play a selection of local sides from lower divisions in an effort to ramp up the intensity levels before the season started, without having to compromise familiar home comforts. For example Arsenal used to play an annual fixture against their north London neighbours Barnet, a game which the Gunners didn’t schedule this summer. So are these pre-season tournaments in far flung parts of the world better preparation for the upcoming Premier League season then the previous tried and tested method? Or is it simply a ploy to sell more shirts abroad and secure mega money kit deals in a bid to earn a few extra million?

Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in between. There are positives about going abroad to play in pre-season tournaments against illustrious competition: the standard is higher, which should better prepare players for the season ahead, and playing in warm climates such as the USA is a great way to get players into shape ahead of the looming 38-game slog. Of course, the financial benefits aren’t too shabby, either.

Yet there are clear negatives. Travel, particularly when going to the Far East and Australasia, is a real issue. Players need time to recover after games and sitting on a plane for 12-hours at a time (even if it is in first class) is far from ideal. Additionally the surfaces that these teams are forced to play on in some of these countries are terrible, which can lead to both impact injuries and muscular strains. For instance, the pitch used by Manchester United and Real Madrid on Saturday in Michigan is designed for American Football use, with the grass tending to be thicker and also more prone to ‘cutting up’ during the course of a football match.

Will these pre-season preparations have a noticeable impact on the form of the affected teams once the Premier League season begins in two weeks time? Only time will tell. But with the bottom line more important than ever in football it should come as no surprise that clubs are branching out further every year in an effort to market their brand. And with 109,000 fans crammed into the ‘Big House’ in Michigan last night, who can honestly blame them? The English national team may still be a laughing stock, but make no mistake – the Premier League is as popular and powerful as ever.

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Moyes’ Sacking Shows United to be no Better Than Chelsea, Any Other Club

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David Moyes has been shown the door at Old Trafford

Every Monday night, you can tune into Sky Sports and listen to Gary Neville preach the importance of managerial stability and patience at any given football club. Often Neville will slam chairman of clubs such as West Brom, Chelsea and Fulham for their hastiness with regards to removing one manager after another as they seek to fulfill their ambition, be it winning trophies or merely surviving in the top flight. If you brought Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography last Autumn you’d have read the immortal manager’s words about how he was afforded time to stamp his authority on the famous Old Trafford club, despite him finishing just 11th, 2nd, 11th again and 13th in his first four seasons at the helm of Manchester United. Ferguson even pleaded with supporters to give Moyes their support last May when he stepped down as manager of United after 20 years of near unprecedented success. Manchester United’s own supporters preached the same message throughout last summer after Malcolm Glazer and the United directors passed up the opportunity to hire Jose Mourinho, despite his resume including league titles in four different countries and two European Cup victories, instead opting for the “long term” option of David Moyes.

It is clear that Moyes’ first season in charge was not going to plan. He’d inherited the previous season’s champions and seen them become Premier League also rans, destined for a 7th place finish. Yet he’d been without the services of Robin Van Persie for more than half the campaign, and one wonders whether or not he’d have inherited champions at all if the Dutchman had proven so fragile in his first season at Old Trafford. Elder statesmen such as Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs have also looked well past their best while Ashley Young, Nani and Micheal Carrick have suffered through severe dips in form. This squad was not a squad of champions. Last season they were eliminated in the quarter finals of the Champions League. This season? They suffered the same fate. On the European stage it has been a few years now since United have been able to compete with the very best, witness their 3-1 defeat to Barcelona in 2011, which perhaps demonstrates the lack of quality in the current side.

Yet there’s no denying that Moyes had his faults. He failed to bring in the required calibre of player last summer, when Marouane Fellaini was his only buy. Juan Mata, it cannot be argued, was a better piece of business in January but he hasn’t been utilised in his favoured “number 10” role. He has failed to project an air of confidence in press conferences, or on the touchline. But what is the point of giving a manager a six-year contract if he is not allowed time to mature into the role? It took Ferguson four years to win his first trophy with United. Think about that for a second. Brendan Rodgers, currently atop the Premier League with Liverpool, is yet to win a major trophy in his managerial career. That will probably change in a few short weeks but where would Liverpool be now if they had sacked Rodgers after a 7th place finish last season? United are actually four points better off than Liverpool were at the same stage in 2013. When the Glazer’s hired a man with no Champions League experience and no background of managing a top European club surely, surely, they must’ve anticipated growing pains. To sack a manager so soon after appointing him demonstrates a stunning lack of faith in both their own judgement and that of Sir Alex Ferguson.

When Chelsea sack manager after manager they are derided as being a joke, a plastic club with plastic fans. Fortunately for them they have an owner with billions of pounds behind him. United aren’t so fortunate, and they’ve set a dangerous precedent for their future. What if the next manager, be it Louis Van Gaal or whoever else, fails to net a trophy next season? It won’t be easy. Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City look almost certain to retain top four status next year. Then there’s Arsenal, Tottenham and Everton all vying for that final Champions League spot. They might not even be playing in Europe next year, so that’s another potential trophy out the window.

Sacking Moyes does not make Tom Cleverly a better player, nor does it reverse the aging process that has set in with the likes of Evra, Van Persie and Giggs. Moyes was this morning sacked nine months into a six-year contract. If that’s a long-term appointment, what makes a short one?

Juan Mata: The Man With a Past and a Future But No Present

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Juan Mata is set to give his switch to Old Trafford the thumbs up

Chelsea midfielder and twice reigning player of the season Juan Mata looks set to complete a £37 million move to arch rivals Manchester United tomorrow, finally ridding Blues manager Jose Mourinho of a player whom he clearly does not rate and giving the Red Devils the attacking play-maker so desperately needed by under fire boss David Moyes.

Should it go through the transfer will see a high profile player, not to mention a large sum of money, change hands between two of the biggest clubs in England. Between them Chelsea and Manchester United have combined to win every league title but one since the 2004/5 season in addition to a Champions League trophy each, a staggering haul especially when taking into account the frequency with which Chelsea have changed managers during that period. However at present it’s United who are struggling to come to terms with a new man in charge, prompting a club record bid for Mata despite the fact that the Spaniard has struggled to crack Mourinho’s starting lineup all season. While on occasion top class talent has moved from one top four club to another, for example Robin Van Persie’s transfer from Arsenal to United and Ashley Cole’s move from Highbury to Stamford Bridge, it is highly unusual to see a player who has been so instrumental to his sides success in recent seasons move to a direct competitor, albeit one who sits far further down the table than is normally the case.

As the player at the centre of this all Juan Mata must be wondering what he did to be so publicly eschewed by Mourinho as soon as ‘The Special One’ arrived at the Bridge for the second time. In his two and a half seasons with Chelsea Mata has twice won the clubs player of the year award, winning the Champions League in year one and the Europa League in year two, before being relegated to the bench for the first half of the present campaign. A lively creative influence, Mata is adept at playing both in the classic ‘number 10’ position behind the main forward or on the left flank, where he can use his wand of a left foot to great effect. Having made his Valencia debut in 2009 he quickly established himself as one of the brightest young talents in Spanish football, not an easy task thanks to the other young stars who have emerged during their era of world footballing dominance. 129 leagues appearances and 33 goals later Mata was off to England and Chelsea, the Blues beating a host of other top European clubs to his signature. During his first season in England Mata scored 12 goals and created a further 20, highlighting his ability to both find the net and spot a pass. His second season was even more prolific; 20 goals and 35 assists. A nomination for the PFA Players Player of the Season award was well deserved and although Mata would lose out to Gareth Bale in that category it was clear for all to see that the Spanish maestro was one of the Premier League’s elite performers.

Mata’s international career is equally as decorated as his domestic portfolio and he currently has both a World Cup and European Championships winners medal to his name. At just 25 years of age he’s already achieved more than most footballers achieve during their career, so what does the future hold in store for the soon to be Manchester United man? One thing it won’t feature for at least the next few months is Champions League football. Having played twice for Chelsea during the group stages of this years competition Mata is cup tied should his move to Manchester go through, and with United also out of the Carling Cup and F.A Cup he’ll see action exclusively in the league for the rest of this campaign. His brief hiatus from European footballs top competition could lengthen, however, if his arrival at Old Trafford doesn’t signal a change in fortunes for David Moyes men, who sit three places and six points out of fourth place with just 16 games remaining. It’s more likely that Mata will be showcasing his talents in the Europa League than the Champions League next season and as United embark on their first true rebuilding phase for more than two decades Mata may have to sit and watch and both England and Europe’s top clubs battle it out for silverware.

With the next few months and potentially seasons unlikely to be hugely successful for Mata, Moyes and Manchester United (#alliteration) on the surface the move doesn’t make much sense for any of the involved parties. Yet if you look beyond the here and now the logic behind the transfer becomes much clearer. It’s been said a thousand times this season and it’s true – Manchester United are a team in transition. The core of the last great team built by Sir Alex Ferguson is over the hill and falling fast. Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs, Patrice Evra and Robin Van Persie are all the wrong side of 30. Wayne Rooney turns 29 in October and with his iffy fitness record you would figure he doesn’t have a great deal of time left at the top of his game. If United are to rise again they’ll need the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Adnan Januzaj and Tom Cleverly to fulfill their potential. Developing players is a long and arduous process but it can be accelerated by surrounding these fledglings with proven quality. Quality such as Juan Mata. Before Ferguson won his first title with United he brought in the mercurial Eric Cantona to Old Trafford and built his team around the Frenchman. Jose Mourinho might think he can get away with selling Mata to Manchester United, a team he believes poses no threat under David Moyes. Yet he’s failed to account for the fact that Juan Mata will be far more valuable to Manchester United, a beacon of hope for the future and a player to build a team around, than he was to Chelsea, the Premier League’s most talented (and expensive) impact sub. It’s believed one of the key reasons Mourinho wasn’t targeted by the Manchester United board was his lack of vision and propensity for short sightedness. That very same dearth of planning could see Juan Mata come back to haunt him in years to come.