Managers and coaches believe that hard work and good performances in pre-season can be the key to success in the forthcoming campaign. They see this as an opportunity to recoup players fitness levels to the standard of the previous season - by putting them through strenuous training drills and various friendlies. The manager also like’s to make out that everyone is equal and that everyone will have a chance to prove themselves. As we all know, though, this is all small talk and managers rarely keep their promises.
Whilst competitive Premier League football has taken a break of it’s own this summer, I have been left to ponder over some of England’s top sides adventures across the world, as they seek match preparation for the new season. Arsenal, Aston Villa, Blackburn, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United have all travelled to places such as Asia and America on their pre-season tours. All of whom have travelled with a squad of 30+ players. Some of which, many of the clubs fans have little knowledge about whatsoever. The youngsters on show, however - and some of the fringe players, believe that they have a chance of breaking into the first team. No chance. Most of the managers already know their starting XI’s and tend to use these matches as a chance to discover formations and style of play. The others are just there for the experience.
Liverpool for example, have hardly played their full strength team in any of their friendlies, and have let the youngsters play out the majority of games so far. The fear of players picking up injuries and niggles is clear to see, as managers take great caution with their team selection. United have experimented in attack, with Federico Macheda, Danny Welbeck and Michael Owen all playing as many minutes as possible, although they have little chance of starting the season opener when Wayne Rooney, Dimiitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez are the preferred options. This is a similar trend with most teams.
These fixtures are played out during the transfer window also, with many managers evaluating certain areas of the squad that could be improved by dipping into the transfer market. So, no matter how well some may play during pre-season, there is still little chance of them breaking into the first team as the manager has alternative ideas and players in mind.
Sir Alex Ferguson, though, has expressed his delight at the form of Tom Cleverley in the tour matches and the recent win over Barcelona on Saturday. The 69-year old Scot has hinted that the young English midfielder will not be sent out on loan and could feature regularly, as United still search for a valid replacement for Paul Scholes. The same thing is happening at Stamford Bridge where Josh McEachran has impressed new Chelsea manager, Andres Villas-Boas. The former FC Porto manager has labelled him as an exciting talent and like Cleverley, could feature a lot this season. Maybe a breakthrough season similar to that of Jack Wilshere, who enjoyed a successful loan spell at Bolton in the second half of the 2010 season - to then start Arsenal’s opener against Liverpool last year.
Whilst there are success stories for some, there is no hiding the fact that many players will either be shipped out on loan for the season or worse, left to fight it out in the reserves. Some players are so out of favour with their clubs (Nicklas Bendtner, Manuel Almunia, Emmanuel Adebayor, Craig Bellamy, Wayne Bridge) that they’re deemed as not needed by the club and will not be warranted the chance to impress the manager in the pre-season. There are many cruel sides to pre-season that some prefer to ignore and overlook. It may be fun for the players guaranteed a place in the side but it remains an uncertain and nerving time for others who simply don’t know where they will be playing come the start of the season.