CRAIGE: Pre-Season Tours Ramp Up Team Training
The Beautiful Game

Here is a truly exciting thought: In just 18 days, the 2016-17 season of the English Premier League kicks off. For fans of La Liga and Bundesliga, I am afraid that you will have to wait a little longer, as those leagues kick off on Aug. 19 and 26, respectively. This summer we were fortunate enough to have the European Championship and Copa America as distractions from a summer without soccer, but there is absolutely nothing better than the start of a new campaign.

Right now, the teams are all involved with their preseason tours. This is a crucial step in a team’s preparations for the new season, for many reasons. For the obvious reason, a preseason tour helps players get back into game shape after a summer spent not playing soccer. Obviously, teams continue to train during the summer, but it is not exactly the same, as the entire environment is slightly different without the pressure of a game.

After a major tournament like the European Championship, many players are given time off from the summer tours. Additionally, a lot of the big stars are also given time off because the preseason is not considered to be incredibly important to them. For this reason, you will never see Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale play during Real Madrid’s preseason tour. It is unfair for the fans, but it is entirely expected. In many regards then, the preseason tour is very similar to the Summer League of the NBA.

Fans may be disappointed by the absence of their favorite players, but the preseason tour is a wonderful opportunity for a club’s academy players to really shine. Since every academy team, whether it be under-21 or under-18 and so on, has its own manager, it can be quite difficult for the first-team manager to really get a feel for what a player can do. By including a vast number of academy players on the preseason tour team, a manager is able to build a better relationship with those players and also see who is worth calling up. In fact, academy players do go on to succeed for big clubs: Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Ryan Giggs and John Terry all graduated from their club academies and found massive success.

The preseason tour is also a great way for clubs to interact with their international fans. Oftentimes, a preseason game can end up being one of the only chances that non-United Kingdom-based fans have to see their beloved teams. Liverpool, Chelsea, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Leicester City, Celtic, Inter Milan, Paris Saint Germain, Milan and Real Madrid are all going to the United States as part of their preseason tour. For many fans, it is completely worth traveling to another city — for example, many of the teams like to play in California — just to be able to take in a game. For instance, Leicester City is currently continuing its championship celebration across the United States.

Where are Manchester United and Manchester City on tour this summer, you ask? Both Manchester clubs are playing in China, along with Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund, in the Chinese leg of the International Champions Cup. The ICC is an annual tournament that is really just an excuse to get some of the biggest teams in the world to compete against each other in a series of friendlies. This year, games are being played across the United States, Australia, China and various countries in Europe. Tottenham, Juventus and Atletico Madrid are facing off against Melbourne Victory in the Australian side of the ICC, for those of you wondering.

While some of the bigger teams do not take the preseason tour all that seriously, there are many teams that do. For teams with new managers, the preseason is an incredibly important way for the manager to get to know the team. For instance, Jurgen Klopp is currently undergoing his first preseason tour with Liverpool. Even though he has been the manager there for more than half of the year, Klopp is using this opportunity to truly evaluate his squad.

It is worth noting that Liverpool has brought along nearly its entire regular team for the tour — even Philippe Coutinho — which is a rather unusual move for a big team. It highlights just how willing Liverpool is to let Klopp make the changes he feels necessary, since it emphasizes his philosophy: No one is bigger than the team. Thus far, this appears to be working, as the Reds have yet to lose a game in the preseason. Granted, it is the preseason, but this will undoubtedly give the team confidence for the start of the season. Leicester is another team that has brought much of its championship winning squad with it on turn, another example of a team that is more than just a single player.

So while Liverpool is taking its summer tour seriously, Jose Mourinho at Manchester United does not appear to be worried at all, despite his team’s thumping 4-1 defeat at the hands of Dortmund. Once again, this is merely preseason and Mourinho has not had much time to get to know his team, but this does not appear to be the reassuring vibe that the owners of the team are looking for. While some of the problems Manchester has encountered have been entirely beyond the team’s control — the bad weather that separated the team planes and the poor quality of the pitch that canceled the game with Manchester City — this is not exactly the start to the season that inspires confidence.

Whatever the impact a preseason has on a team, it ultimately pales in comparison to the start of the actual season when the results do matter. Fortunately for us, that glorious start will soon be underway.

VanessaCraige-150x150Vanessa Craige is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. The Beautiful Game appears every Tuesday and Friday.

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