After a summer of discussion, controversy and the dominance of Manchester City and Real Madrid in the transfer market, club football has finally returned to our lives albeit in a non-competitive format.
Obviously after the seemingly endless summer break it is great to see your team back in action.
However how much can we really gleam from these games, can any meaningful analysis be made into the results, players or tactics employed?
This article looks at what we can and cannot gain from the Premier League teams and their pre-season friendlies:
What We Gain From Pre-Season Friendlies
Overview of Squad Fitness – Many players have had short holidays this season despite the absence of a major international tournament ( I am discounting the Confederations Cup as a major competition), therefore these friendly games are the first chance to see which players are fit and raring to go and who has spent too much time on the beach drinking sangria.
First Glimpse of New Signings – For teams that have been active in the transfer market, it is an opportunity to see new signings in their new colours for the first time. Michael Owen and Daniel Sturridge have already scored their first goals in their new colours exciting the fans of both clubs.
Blooding Youth Players – Preseason often means that fringe and youth players are involved with the first team squad, making them feel a part of the team and easing them towards a potential shot at regular first team football.
Bringing the Game to Overseas Fans – With the rejection of the Game 39 proposal, pre-season friendlies offer a rare opportunity for the growing global Premier League fan base, to see their heroes in the flesh. Whilst many purists may yelp at the pandering to the clubs ‘brand’ these games are essential to elicit new fans and drive revenue.
What you cannot get from Pre-Season
Definitive Performance Indicators – However much you analyse every shot, pass or tackle made by your favourite team/ player in the next few weeks. Performances in pre-season are not necessarily an accurate yard stick to future success. Players such as Darren Bent and Andriy Shevchenko have famously flattered to deceive, turning in excellent preseason performances, bagging plenty of goals only to get stage fright when the dress rehearsal finished and the big stage beckoned.
The Thrill of Match day – Unless you are watching your team play live in one of the commercially important areas of the world selected for a leading club’s pre-season friendly, it is hard to get excited about the games themselves. The games are often against low grade opposition or exhibition games against high calibre opposition played with a low tempo. Both are designed to ease players gently towards competitive football and not geared towards specific performances or winning meaning that entertainment values are generally low. I will be attending two of my team’s pre-season games in the build up to the new season and doubt that I will feel the same adrenalin as I do during a standard season’s league or cup encounter.
From the points above it is obvious there is plenty to gain from pre-season matches on a number of different level. The games act as a fantastic marketing campaign for the clubs involved and bring the players closer to fans across the world. They also ease players towards the new season and set the rumour mill/tactical debates alight, after a tedious summer of transfer hullabaloo.
However, as I watch the first few performances and results come through from this years pre-season offering, I feel that these games end up asking more questions than they answer. These games reignite issues such as whether Manchester City’s new signings will all gel together in time to make an impact on the league, or if Michael Owen can resurrect his career in time for the World Cup.
Friendlies are a necessity and a nice sideshow with plenty of positives, but they lack the thrill of competitive football, the noise, the passion and adrenalin that drives successful spectator sports.
I want answers to my pre-season questions but cannot draw anything conclusive from this friendly fare, which seems only whet my appetite for the new season further. It has only sought to drive my footballing addiction to new levels. I can no longer survive on my summer sporting substitutes of Golf, Tennis and Cricket, I need competitive football and the sooner the better for us all.