By Alex Netherton
Post is a word-forming element which means, ‘after’. Pre is a word-forming element which means, ‘before’. Post-season is what we were doing a few weeks before now. It was ‘after’ the season. Now we are in pre-season. It is the time ‘before’ the season. There is an argument as to whether post-season is in fact also pre-season, because post-season is before, or ‘pre’ the season, too. It’s a question of perception, and one for the semiologists to discuss, because there’s football on. Let’s talk about pre-season football. Umberto Eco be damned!
Pre-season is an odd time. There’s a lot of hooha about a lot of friendlies, which nevertheless have almost zero meaning. The amount of coverage given over to them is more an indictment of how valuable any kind of Big Club football is to keeping a necessary turnover of rags, and delivering a necessary amount of clicks and, vernacular ahoy, dwell time. Pre-season has taken on meaning only because the football industry needs pre-season to take on meaning, not because of any inherent worth. We are at the stage, even if we thought it had happened before, where football will eat itself.
It happens for money. Given the obvious, although not absolute, link between money and success in football, clubs will do almost anything to get £ and $ and € and ฿ and ¥ and, you would assume eventually, Bitcoin. It is, after all, a currency associated with shady dealings, which might suit the globalised football touring circus. Friendlies are a whirligig of cash money, all there at the end of a long haul flight. Nobody points out the downsides. Or, okay, if they do, repetition will not do you any harm, so here they are again.
For one, it is still notionally supported that a club should have local roots. If a club decides that its pomp and nonsense is to be done, it seems odd that the people who are indulged with the flattery, PR and walkaround tours are those who live furthest from the club. That’s not to say that foreign fans cannot support Manchester United or Real Madrid, but it seems odd to reward most simperingly those people with the least meaningful emotional connection. It is also exploitative. Fans in far off corners of the world are being tricked. They are sold an emotional connection to a group of brands which are more excited by their monetising potential.
Second, it is plainly fatuous for the clubs to talk about the training plans for the next season. The teams are on the move every three days, spending ever increasing time on, or providing, corporate jollies, afflicted by jet-lag and holiday rustiness. The quality of the pitches, and the vulnerability to the extreme weather in some of the venues, is possibly linked to injuries and poor preparation for Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie and Jan Vertonghen. Other games may be called off due to the unsuitability of the pitch, further reducing the opportunities for players to prepare for what they’re actually meant to do. You know, win league and cup matches in their country and Europe. While Raymond Verheijen might be conspicuously unemployed, his argument that Premier League clubs take a cavalier attitude to their players’ fitness is borne out by the strain they put on them in these tours.
The weight of the analysis and coverage of these games is inexplicable. There have been minute-by-minute reports of almost every single friendly played by the top four clubs, and Liverpool, in the Premier League. Let’s spare a minute for the poor, downtrodden hack. Now not just required to put a spin on tired transfer rumours, they are now asked to imbue meaning into Manchester United versus a select Malaysian XI. Looking for valid tactical analysis in a game between sides of such disparate quality is like looking for the magic eye element in a painting by Mondrian. When journalists start smashing up their screens with their keyboards, a maniacal glint in the eye, but with a calmness in the actions, this is why. Not content with having to tell us that every possible club is buying every possible player, they now have to engage doublethink to believe that Luis Suarez’s handshake with Brendan Rodgers before coming on as a sub, is yet another Important Handshake In Modern Football. Aaaaaaaaaaaargh!
And it’s the same for the fans. Primed to the edge of fury throughout the season – your player dived, our player exaggerated contact, your player said this, our player has been traduced because you can’t grasp the vagaries of cultural relativism, your player is an idiot, our player was wrongly snubbed for a Nobel Prize – they’re now not allowed a moment’s break. They have to now appraise the hunger of superstars coming back from an exotic holiday. They have to seriously consider how their millions of pounds of resources compare to the best a country with stretched resources and little footballing history can muster. They have to consider flying out to watch glorified training sessions. They have to read the nonsense in the websites and in the papers, because they’re told it means something.
It’s in our power to put this to bed. Remember, there are burgers to grill. There are pints to drink. There are third wave feminists who you could give platforms to. Football is from August until May. Enjoy your break, and fling your laptop, tablet, phone and newspapers into the nearest canal.