I can’t be the only person perplexed at the news that David Moyes, Manuel Pellegrini and Roberto Martinez have all lost their first games in charge of their new clubs. I didn’t think the football season started until August.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m missing football too. I’m missing it so much that this week I found myself setting up a new Football Manager game with a brief to rebuild the Scottish national team at all age levels. Then I realised what I was doing and I cried for a time at what I had become. Yes, I’m bored. But I’m not so bored that I’ve started to believe that results in pre-season friendlies are actually important.
For all the work that goes into arranging them, for all the money that changes hands, for all the sponsorship that is signed off, for all that supporters around the world who relish the chance to see their heroes with their own actual eyes, here is a proximity mine of truth for you. Tick, tick, tick, BOOM! Results in pre-season friendlies have never meant anything at all. Ever.
Pre-season friendlies are, with the best will in the world, opportunities for young men to run the Majorcan booze out of their systems, pausing only to order their new teammates to stand on a chair and sing a song in front of everyone. The unrelenting international calendar means that most teams will be missing at least one player to patriotic commitments, the exertions of last season will leave at least another at home in physiotherapy and the loaded words of dark-hearted agents will steal the attention of at perhaps half a dozen more. These are not real football matches, they are glorified training sessions.
They’re excellent for journalists, who can travel with the team, build new contacts, ask the same questions about Wayne Rooney and drink their expense account into a black hole in space, but for everyone else, they’re barely relevant.
Even when the results are staggering, they remain meaningless. Newcastle’s glaring 1-6 defeat to Leyton Orient in 2009 preceded a glorious romp to promotion. Yes, you could look at the full and frank exchange of views in the dressing room that day and argue that it had an effect on the subsequent season, but only if you looked at it while squinting hard enough block out all other contributory factors. Obviously, Kevin Nolan’s polite invitation for unwilling souls to pack their bags and leave via the nearest window had some kind of effect, but not as much of an effect as, say, Newcastle’s bold retention of a talent-packed, heavily remunerated squad, the shrewd man-management of Chris Hughton, the fervent backing of tens of thousands of supporters and 46 hard-fought games of proper football.
Last weekend, Moyes picked a wide-eyed, jet-lagged, half-fit team that he would never pick for the Premier League and he led them out into the kind of hair-perming humidity that, even in this unusually hot spell, he’ll never experience in England. Over at City, Pellegrini is still trying to figure out which one is Scott Sinclair, a problem he shares with many of his new club’s supporters. As for Martinez, he’s only on Slide 3 of his 24-page Powerpoint presentation on how to successfully deploy a back three.
These games mean nothing. They’re drill sessions, they’re sales conferences, they’re tarted-up, pimped-up, polished-up car-boot sales for expensive merchandise. So can everyone just calm down? If you really need something to do, why not recommend me some good Scottish defenders under the age of 19…
Read more from Iain Macintosh here