Hull City, Bolton and Newcastle all suffered surprising friendly defeats against lower league sides in England on Saturday afternoon, but do the results of these pre-season fixtures really matter?
Crewe, Macclesfield and Doncaster may be reveling in their victories over their Premier League counterparts, but will Phil Brown, Gary Megson and Kevin Keegan be particularly worried by their side’s losses to teams they would usually expect to comfortably beat?
From my understanding, a friendly match is primarily used for the players in a team to gain fitness and sharpness that they may be lacking after a few months away from training. As much of the squad that can be used will be and every individual player must reach the same level of fitness and complete a programme that has been put together by the club’s manager, coaches and fitness experts, unless one is injured of course. By the end of pre-season everybody in the squad, bar the injured, should in theory be ready to play in the competitive matches when the domestic season starts, after playing in around four or five friendly matches and training intensively.
So it seems that the result of these games should not really matter to the club managers, as long as all players involved work hard enough and try and get back towards full sharpness in the specific aspect of football that they specialise in – whether it be goalkeeping, defending, playing in midfield or striking. New signings must try and integrate into the already gelled squad of players, and the spirit and atmosphere of the side must be built towards a united push to try and achieve a successful campaign in whichever league they compete in.
Of course, the definition of these pre-season games is in the title – a ‘friendly’. But it is in the nature of every sportsman to want to win every event that they play in. There will always be some competitiveness in every football match, and most players will tell you that a professional wants to do their best in every game, no matter how meaningless the fixture may be.
That aspect has always existed in friendly games, but more recently other factors may have started to contribute to more competitive games during this period of the football calendar. Die-hard fans will now come to watch most of the pre-season games that their club take part in, unless they travel to a far away country on a tour, but that has also been happening for quite a while now.
The biggest new aspect of friendlies is the live television coverage that they are now receiving. Even the English terrestrial station, Channel Five, has screened three games already this summer, with another to come in August between Manchester City and AC Milan. This fixture may sound mouth-watering because of the two top-class teams going head-to-head, but nearly all of these games turn out to be dull, slow paced and boring slogs. How this type of football game can be classed as entertaining television is beyond me.
The clubs can certainly not be blamed though. All they want to do is get their players fit and ready for the games that really matter. Then the television stations should expect the real entertainment to take place.
Setanta Sports have already screened quite a number of friendlies this summer in England, and they still have a massive sixteen live games still to show before the competitive season begins in mid-August. These days broadcasters will go to any lengths to get some live football on their channels, and if they can secure fixtures involving the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal then they know viewers will tune in. None of these games will provide any sort of drama though.
Many of Europe’s leading clubs now take part in pre-season tournaments as well, which are now classed as semi-competitive, and these games are also screened on television. There is a trophy at stake for the winners, so this will automatically spark greater emotions from players who are hungry to start their seasons with some sort of silverwear, no matter how low key it may be. Arsenal are competing in both The Emirates Cup and The Amsterdam Tournament, whilst Manchester United have been in South Africa this week to taking part in the Vodacom Challenge.
A summer tour to the far corners of the globe is now a regular event for the very top sides, mainly to publicise and promote the club to further shores. It could be argued that the players of these clubs are put under more pressure to perform well in these games because they may be playing in front of over-seas supporters that very rarely get to see their heroes before their very eyes. They will want to impress as much as possible.
So there are quite a number of reasons to why pre-season friendlies of today are sometimes much more than a fitness session. So as Hull City, Bolton and Newcastle came away with surprising losses on Saturday, do their fans and manager really care? If a team gets is players fit and ready for the new campaign is that good enough?
Please leave your thoughts below on this subject.
* I would also like to congratulate The Gaffer for his appearance on the ‘World Football Phone-In’ on English radio station ‘Radio Five Live’. In his first full appearance on the show, he provided top analysis on all matters to do with football in North American. Well done!