We are currently at the point in the football calendar where the start of the new season is only a few weeks away, but it seems like a mammoth wait with no football to watch.
But can pre-season friendlies help this longing for the beautiful game to be back competitively? I’m going to look at it from three viewpoints: fans, players and managers.
First, up, us fans. If you are reading this, then you are probably a football fan in some way. If not, and you have just stumbled across this blog by accident, then welcome to It’s Football Not Soccer, please feel free to subscribe and look at any of my previous posts.
Anyway, on the one hand, friendlies give fans the opportunity to watch their team for a fairly cheap price. Pre-season games are often a lot less expensive than competitive games, with many clubs offering deals such as ‘Kids for a Quid’, whilst adult tickets may also still be quite low. For example, my dad and I went to watch Reading face Wycombe last weekend, with our tickets costing a combined total of £17, a price lower than what my dad on his own has to pay for a Royals ticket during the season.
Furthermore, you sometimes get friendlies where a giant of world football faces a lower league side, such as when Real Madrid visited Bournemouth last year, and thrashed them 6-0 in front of a capacity crowd. Although Cherries fans would have been disappointed about the result, I’m sure the chance to see the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema at their team’s stadium would have made up from it.
For the players, pre-season is a chance to get back to the match fitness, and impress the manager and show why you should be starting the first game of the season. Many managers give the younger players in the squad or lads from the youth teams an opportunity to perform in friendlies, and it is these players who want to impress the gaffer the most and break into the first team and starting 11.
If there has been an international tournament that summer, just like this year, some players may not take part in pre-season, such as Arsenal’s World Cup winners Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski and and Per Mertesacker, who may even miss the start of the Premier League season according to Arsene Wenger.
The French boss has also claimed that pre-season tours are purely for commercial purposes and can tire players out, which may give us an insight into how managers view pre-season.
Wenger and his side lost 1-0 to Thierry Henry’s New York Red Bulls on Saturday in America, and continue their pre-season by travelling to Austria for a training camp before returning to North London to compete in The Emirates Cup, in which they face Benfica and AS Monaco. It’s a schedule that doesn’t seem too hectic to me, but here’s Wenger’s thoughts: “These training camps in the modern game are decided for commercial reasons and because of the extent of popularity of the club,” he said. “We’ve never been to the States before and I was very happy to come to New York – a city I love. But for purely football reasons, the best thing to do is stay and not travel too much because of the time you waste and the jet-lag you suffer is not ideal.”
New Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has also criticised his team’s pre-season timetable, which sees them tour America. United beat Roma 3-2 in Denver on Saturday which followed a 7-0 thrashing of LA Galaxy last week in Los Angeles, and now they face games in Washington and Detroit before potentially face a fifth game on August 4 in Miami, less than two weeks before they kick off their Premier League season at home to Swansea City on August 16.
“More or less, yes,” Van Gaal said when asked whether the demands were hindering his preparations. “We have to prepare the season and when you have commercial activities and dreadful distances, having to fly a lot and the jet lag, it is not very positive for a good preparation.”
Personally, I would have thought that pre-season friendlies would be considered a positive thing for new managers like van Gaal, as it gives them an opportunity to find out how they want to set the side up and get to know the strengths and weaknesses of certain players. Even for long-standing managers like Wenger, friendlies give them the chance to experiment with their side when nothing is at stake.
Then we come to the question of what can we actually tell from pre-season. Obviously, you can see which players are in form and how well signings fit into their new teams, but what do pre-season results tell us? After Liverpool lost 2-1 to Brondby and 1-0 to Roma by putting out fairly strong sides in both games, one Reds fan told me that he didn’t judge on pre-season form, where as Brendan Rodgers was equally optimistic saying: “You have a choice. You can play friendlies that probably make you win every game and you might not find anything out.” But do you worry for Liverpool without a replacement for Luis Suarez? I certainly don’t see them as title contenders at the moment, but I’ll leave that opinion for my season previews.
Despite those losses signifying to me that Liverpool may struggle in 2014-15, I certainly do not consider Manchester United’s 7-0 win over LA Galaxy and 3-2 win over Roma representing the end to their recent problems. They still have a long way to go before they are title contenders again, and their meeting with Real Madrid this weekend may give us a more accurate representation as to how The Red Devils will fare in 2014-15. Many fans consider the dark days of David Moyes to be well and truly over, whilst Tottenham supporters are also confident ahead of the new season. Who could blame them? Their 3-2 win over Toronto saw two goals from Erik Lamela, last season’s £30 million flop from Roma, and a winning goal from the returning Andros Townsend. A new coach, a new start and suddenly things look rosy for Mauricio Pochettino’s team. Both sides may not have as good a fortune throughout 2014-15.
Although I will factor in pre-season form when formulating my season predictions, what clubs get up to in this time should not be taken as how they will fare when it comes to the competitive season. I see friendlies as a positive for fans, players and managers and although some people see them as pointless, without any football to watch in this time, I don’t know what I would do – and the World Cup only finished under three weeks ago!