by Luke Wilcox
As pre-Season comes to a slow winding end, players and fans alike begin to look forward to the start of the new season and the successes it may bring. I consider whether a good pre-season is imperative for a title challenging side and whether the whole process is even really worth it.
A good pre-season brings confidence. It’s really that simple. If your club remains unbeaten throughout 7 friendlies, let’s say winning 6 and drawing 1, it can only instil confidence upon fans that the upcoming season will be a good one. The positive atmosphere around the club will thus have an affect upon the players in the dressing room causing them to become optimistic for the season ahead and maybe even spurring them on to bigger and better things.
The primary example of this was Barçelona in their treble winning 2008/09 season where they played 6 pre-season games against relatively easy opposition (Hibernian, Dundee United, Fiorentina, Guadalajara, New York Red Bulls & Boca Juniors), winning each game by a comfortable margin. This created a buzz around the club that this season could be special, and as we all know it was. They completed a tremendous treble collecting the La Liga, Copa Del Rey and the UEFA Champions League trophies.
Was this really down to a good pre-season though? Many first team players didn’t feature much in these friendlies as many had been away on Euro 2008 duty with a heavily Barcelona dominated Spain side.
What is the point in a pre-season if the first team players generally won’t feature? Surely, for this is what pre-season is meant for supposedly, the first team players will gain no more fitness during a 20 minute cameo against a Mongolian Select XI than they would in an everyday training session. Pointless.
In truth, pre-season is less about the football and more about increasing reputation in some relatively unknown country by playing a bunch of kids in a friendly against a team that nobody even knew existed. Teams take their star players only for them to do keepy uppies in front of adoring schoolchildren or to sign some replica shirts at a new club shop that taps into the foreign market. I confess, this only happens with the worldwide names -your Liverpool’s, Man United’s, Real Madrid’s etc… Your Wigan’s and your Wolves’ do it much better, putting out strong sides against local enough lower league teams to increase local relations and get a decent gate in.
The harshest use of pre-season is luring young or fringe players into a false sense of belonging. A young lad who may have made 3 or 4 appearances from the bench the previous season will be a key feature for his club throughout pre-season probably starting all the games, he may even play quite well in a couple. The player will then feel that he has done enough to force his way into the manager’s plans. His manager, however, has other ideas and discards the lad back into reserve team football now that the matches are more competitive and he prefers someone else. It’s likely this lad will have to be content with reserve football or maybe even a lower league loan spell until he runs down his contract and is free to move into a better environment for the individual.
After a glance over at what I’ve written and the moments of contemplation that followed I thought that maybe I’d been a little harsh myself, that pre-season wasn’t really that bad. Then I saw that Man United had played Ama Zulu FC on a tour of South Africa, and I realized -pre-season really was, utterly useless.