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.