YEARS ago I remember thinking that pre season was the time that the squad got back together; the new players came in and you’d end up watching something that resembled the team you followed, in some poorly attended friendly in the rain at Marine FC.
Then it was like pre-season got all polished and United are invited to open Wolves’ new stadium (very impressive it was too) and play a team that included former United player and manager’s son Darren. Former as in, he used to play for United, not that he stopped being Alex’s son, you understand. I’ll move on!
Before you know it pre-season gets positively glossy, and we end up with Manchester United visiting South Africa for games against the Kaiser Chiefs (who later faired much better when they decided to focus on the music). Who remembers the year we went to Ireland for what must have been positive money spinners against teams like Shelbourne? Now the jet set Pre season is almost as hectic as the regular season itself. Commitments to fly here, there and open this stadium, and that car door, can weigh a team down.
Whereas the location may have changed and some of the reasons for playing one tour over another may be a little more mirky now, the basic reason for the pre season games have not really altered. They seem to still be about returning to the team, bonding with the lads and all that stuff. They are about sharpness and fitness and making sure you start the new season in the best possible shape. Now if you’re a big football club it’s not about watching those players playing in shirts numbered just one to eleven like they used to be, without names. It’s about a pre-meditated choice to go to one location over another because it makes financial sense to go to the Far East and play football rather than the US, because Chelsea are there this pre season. I accept that with open arms and I like the idea that someone in Korea gets to go and see Manchester United for the first time in his life.
The Charity shield used to be different. I remember thinking that all the other ones came and went but this one had a trophy and was the traditional curtain raiser. Forget the curse that winning the shield guaranteed you a poor domestic season, anyone who is so inclined can figure out all that if they want to. It was tradition. It is tradition. It has always been counted as a pre season friendly and given no statistical importance in the eyes of Manchester United. Open your year book when you get your club membership most years and it will include the Charity Shield in the back, and if we have finished the season with nothing, then we have finished with nothing. The club doesn’t suddenly bring out the Charity Shield as if to say ‘oh well, erm, we forgot this one, see we actually won a trophy this season!’
Even the idea that the Char…sorry, Community Shield matters because its silverware doesn’t hold water anymore because every bloody pre-season game out there seems to be a tournament of some kind for a trophy. The Ajax tournament, the Port of Rotterdam, The UMBRO tournament, the Asia Trophy…I lose count. I’m glad pre-season’s done and I’m glad we were involved in the Community Shield again. I thought we played well for the majority of the game and went for the win more and more as Chelsea seemed to be playing for spot kicks. I should have had more faith in our keeper because the fact that Chelsea failed to net a single one of their kicks really surprised me – the fact that we converted ours didn’t.
However you view the shield game; meaningless friendly or a sign of intent for the new season, it’s nice to have competitive football back and it’s nice to once again hear the comments of the Chelsea players and their manager. I can already see that it’s going to be as colourful a season on the pitch as off it. I really wouldn’t change Mourinho – he adds entertainment to our league. So it’s good luck to Alan Smith on his new start with Newcastle, thanks for the Roma memories, and now all the pre-season prettiness is over we can let battle commence.