With the pre-season now under way I’ve heard some supporters mention that tours over to Asia and America are actually doing teams more harm than good these days for several reasons.
One of the main objections is all of the travel involved. Some people feel players are simply getting tired out by travelling thousands of miles around the globe. This is one argument I disagree with right away, especially the way travelling is handled these days. Players are basically picked up from their front doors and pampered from the start of the trip to the finish with everything in between being first class including flights, private coaches, and hotels.
I’ve toured the world quite a bit and have flown from Canada to Tokyo, to Singapore, to Bangkok, to Phuket, to Osaka, Japan, back to Tokyo, and then home to Toronto all within 10 days without feeling any ill effects. I’ve also headed from Toronto to Heathrow back to Vancouver and down to Australia all in one shot, so that’s something I just don’t buy. However, I will admit players are sometimes expected to sign autographs and give interviews right after landing.
If there are any downfalls to overseas friendlies they are the competition level and the risk of injury. Most clubs, such as Arsenal, will be playing to packed stadiums on their travels, but they won’t actually be facing elite opposition. This isn’t a problem if you’re just trying to get players into game shape, but if you’re trying to evaluate their talent it makes things difficult. To properly evaluate if a young player can handle the rigours of the Premier League, you have to see them in action against fellow Premier League teams.
It’s all fine and dandy that your players may shine against some of the inferior Asian or African clubs for example, and this is no disrespect to them, but this isn’t the level of competition they should be preparing themselves for week in and week out. Scoring a hat trick against a Malaysian XI doesn’t really mean much and it’s hard for managers to get a true read on players in these types of friendlies. Of course, there’s also always the chance somebody from one of these clubs is trying to make a name for himself and that could lead to a serious injury.
Arsenal know all about pre-season injuries as they lost Jack Wilshere for the entire 2011/12 season due to an injury he picked up in a game against the New York Red Bulls last July. Wilshere is still out of the line-up and manager Arsene Wenger recently admitted that he still doesn’t have a clue when the young English international will be returning. However, that injury was picked up right at home at the Emirates. Of course, these faraway football tours are taken to help build revenue. But in reality, the English Premier League is already so popular and these tours aren’t really necessary.
Perhaps the pre-season would be better spent in Britain with teams trying to get to know each other as well as their managers’ systems and tactics. Most clubs have added several new players during the off season and this time might be better put to use with a lot of training sessions and preparations for the EPL season. If you’re playing other Premier League or top competitive European sides while on a tour, these games can be seen as helpful, but there’s not really any need to travel to China to do it other than money.
And believe me; money is being made by most of these clubs. A prime example was a game between Liverpool and Toronto FC in Canada on July 21. People paid close to £100 to see a weakened Toronto side against a Liverpool squad that was without Pepe Reina, Glen Johnson, Stewart Downing, Steven Gerrard, Andy Carroll, Luis Suarez, Craig Bellamy, Martin Kelly, Jordan Henderson, Sebastian Coates, and newcomer Fabio Borini. In fact 16-year-old Jordan Ibe was in the Reds starting line-up. I don’t see any problem with playing youngsters to give them experience and evaluate them, but it’s a little steep to be asking that type of money to see them play in what is really nothing more than a training session game.
Those who criticize these tours point to jet lag, several time-zone changes, foreign food and weather climates, and endless public relations duties as reasons players don’t get anything out of the trips. They also point out to the fact that not all of the players go on the trips anyway, so proper training can’t be achieved until the teams make it back to England. For instance, new signings Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski are still in London along with Robin van Persie, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Bacary Sagna and Tomas Rosicky. So how are Podolski and Giroud expected to learn Wenger’s systems and bond with teammates when they’re not with the team?
However, football clubs are entitled to expand their exposure and make money while doing it. But is the sport being compromised and are players being put at some type of risk when teams make millions of pounds by playing meaningless friendlies? On the positive side, some people feel that training in warmer climates is quite beneficial and these trips allow the players to bond with each other.
How do you feel about pre-season football tours in faraway, foreign lands. Are they worth it or should teams stay at home and prepare for the season with more training sessions?

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