Many of the top teams start their pre-season campaign this
weekend, which means the usual long-haul trips.
Manchester United play in Malaysia
on Saturday, Chelsea are in Seattle,
while Liverpool and Tottenham are among the others with visits to Asia planned.
These tours are big business nowadays, with clubs looking to
sell shirts and other merchandise, and consolidate their global fanbase. It has
become almost compulsory for the leading teams.
Whether it is the ideal pre-season preparation, however, I
am not sure. Training sessions are short and matches are played at a low intensity, so you
have to do all of you fitness work back at home.
You feel the jet lag for a couple of days when you play in Asia, but you just have to get on with it.
Probably the hardest thing is the fanatical attention from
the supporters, who surround you at every opportunity and make it hard to get
It is a taste of what it must be like to be a pop star; you
have to be there to believe it. The Malaysians in particular are just crazy
about football and United have been out there several times over the years.
It always makes me laugh that teams are prepared to send
their players halfway around the world for a couple of friendlies, but then
complain about fixture congestion and long trips to Sunderland
during the season.
Managers who moan about tiredness are, more often than not,
just looking for an excuse when things go wrong.
Football is enjoyable, and the workload is fairly light. If
players want to find out about real hard work they should spend a week on a
building site or digging a road.
Players like Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry have shown it is
possible to play up to 60 games a season without your performance level
dropping, yet other seem to fall back on fatigue as an excuse.
Managers can be over-protective of players in this
regard. Fifteen years ago, if you told the boss you were tired, he would say
you were unfit and force you to do extra running.
If you didn't
play at least 40 games a season you were considered injury prone and teams
wouldn't want to sign you.
Nowadays players are treated with kid gloves and I don't think it helps. It is human nature - if you tell
a brickie he looks tired and should have a rest, he will take one whether he
needs it or not.
But if you pat him on the back and tell him he is doing a
good job, it will give him a lift and he will want to work harder.
More often than not, fatigue is a mental rather than a physical thing, and it seems
managers are giving their players the opportunity to feel tired.
But if teams really feel their players are drained, they
should let them put their feet up for three months instead of dragging them to far-flung places.