Preseason training is supposed to be gruelling as clubs get their players back to peak fitness ahead of the new season starting. But recently concerns have been raised about the effects pre season is having on the player’s bodies in particular the often gruelling travel schedule attached to it. Europe’s top clubs are jetting off to far away destinations like the US, China and Australia for pre season tours that combine warm weather training with exhibition matches. However in recent years the balance between the two has been swinging more in the favour of these lucrative matches with some clubs now spending more time travelling and playing rather than training.
Manchester United’s pre season tour of the US has seen them play matches in California, Maryland, Colorado, Michigan and Florida over a 15 day period. In amongst those games are 6 travel days with numerous flights adding up to 13,500 miles travelling. Added into this various press calls, interviews, photo opportunities and sponsor run events, it’s hard to see how this trip to the US is really benefiting the players. New Manchester United boss Louis Van Gaal and his counterpart at Arsenal Arsene Wenger have both been vocal in recent weeks about the effects of commercialized pre seasons and their general distain for them. Van Gaal is upset at the structure of his new clubs US tour and volume of travel that he and his players are being forced to do. He argues that whilst game time is important for the players to reach match fitness ahead of the new season, the tight flight schedules and distances travelled are taking its toll on his players. Jet leg and exhaustion can be detrimental to a clubs preparation of its playing staff and make the job harder for the trainers and coaches. Wenger agrees citing previous pre seasons as examples of how heavily commercialized summer activities can hinder a clubs explosive start to the new season. He understands football is evolving into a business and the benefits that commercialization is having on the game but believes in striking a balance between the two. This year, much like last season, Wenger has pulled the reins back on exhibition games in foreign markets preferring to take his squad away for a few days of bonding time before heading back to London for competitive matches in the Emirates Cup. Louis Van Gaal is likely to follow suit next season but as the tour was organized and book before the Dutchman made his entrance, he has to put up with it but not without having his opinions heard.
“The tour was already arranged and I shall adapt and United will do everything to apply to my rules, but I have said that already. 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”
Van Gaal has learned from experience that a solid pre season is essential for a strong start to the new campaign and even hinted towards United pre season last year as a reason why the team started so poorly under David Moyes. A grueling preseason tour of Thailand, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong over a period of two weeks kick started Moyes time in charge this time last year. Whilst commercially the trip was deemed a success with key sponsors getting the full effect of the Manchester United machine, the knock on effect was that United looked off the pace as they started the campaign losing three of their first eight games of the season. Moyes never recovered and was sacked at the end of the season, to be replaced by Van Gaal.
Pre season for British clubs used to involve players running up sandbanks on a rainy day along the various coastlines in Britain but now jetting off to warmer climates is the norm. Whilst commercialized preseason’s are here to stay, there is a strong argument towards striking a fine balance between making money for the club and getting it ready for the challenges ahead. Whilst exhibition games and tours allow foreign fans to see their favourite teams up close and personal, many would rather see their team finishing with silverware at the end of the season instead.