Pre-season has changed considerably since I was a player. Back then the attitude was to go away and drink and eat as much as you liked for six weeks. You were told to go and enjoy yourself after a long, hard season, get away from football and go and do all the things you hadn't had the chance to do over the previous nine months.
I certainly dreaded returning to my club for pre-season because after six weeks off we had to come back and work extremely hard. Players took upon themselves to go and have some fun in the sun, and maybe with a week to go they would try to do a bit of fitness work. But even if you started running two or three weeks before you were supposed to be back you would never escape the fact that the rigours of pre-season would leave you hurting due to that excess. You were always playing catch-up at the start and trying to prove your fitness. That was the philosophy of pre-season back in the day.
You were given a weight to come back at, but at Manchester United Eric Cantona used to return overweight all the time. He just worked very hard to get himself fit, and he achieved it. Eric used to get away and enjoy his time off but then he would work extremely hard, as he did across the season for United. You are entitled to enjoy a holiday with family or friends.
But often today's footballers don't enjoy that respite, particularly given the way international football encroaches on the summer. Fulham were back training as early as last week due to the Europa League.
Certainly amongst the Premier League elite, it is more a case of fine tuning for the majority of players when they return to their clubs. Some will have had very limited time off and they will be in the kind of condition where they don't have to indulge in hardcore fitness training as we used to have to do. They won't have to go down to the beach and run on sand for a week, or run up hills every day before even getting to touch a ball. Players don't dread pre-season as much now as they did many moons ago, when they had to be knocked into shape.
Aside from the daunting physical slog, the enjoyable thing about returning to your club after the summer break was finishing those hard initial two weeks and knowing you had games in front of you.
Friendlies are important because they can make or break your season. Some players can even kill off their chances of a starting place under their manager because of the poor way they approach those fixtures.
You have to make sure you do everything right and have the correct attitude going into the warm-up games. It is a fine balance to strike, because if you approach them with too much enthusiasm and pull a muscle or suffer a stress fracture you can miss the start of the season. Sometimes you can do too much and put yourself back six weeks. It can be a dilemma.
Some say the demands of pre-season are magnified by embarking on the kind of foreign tours that are conducted for the benefit of marketing men, but I don't think travelling the world is too much of a burden. When I was at United we travelled to Asia three times. Ultimately you are footballers; it's not the most demanding of professions.
As a player you are now required to get out and about to sponsorship events and meet the local people. I toured Asia with United, and before Europe broke up I travelled the whole continent. In fact I think the only place I didn't go was Luxembourg. But I didn't get to enjoy those trips because you were hidden away as a player. You went to a lot of places, but you didn't actually see them because you spent all day on a coach.
United have been doing these tours for years and it hasn't done them any harm. Arsenal have started to emulate United and they travel out for the first time this year. Arsene Wenger has obviously been told that the club cannot do it his way and stay in Austria every year; commercial pressures demand that they must expand in key markets like the Far East.
They do have some catching up to do. Manchester United and Liverpool are the two big teams but there are people walking around Singapore and Malaysia in Chelsea shirts, certainly more than there were a year ago. Arsenal won't be able to compete with the two northern clubs out in the Far East, but they have to start somewhere. It helps that people love the Premier League and they want to watch the stars they see on TV every week.
When a Premier League team comes to town, it is manic. I know because I live out there. When Liverpool or Manchester United visit, people are begging for tickets. Wenger may say he doesn't like the travelling and the impact it has on his squad, but I'm sorry, the club are right to change their approach and modernise.