The game-damaging evil of Premier League tours


Pre-season tours have been around for a long time. In the past, they were used to germinate team-spirit and, in certain climates, they provided managers with the opportunity to condition players in a certain way.

A team would go away for three weeks, do some training, play a few games, and then trash a few aeroplanes on the way home.

At certain levels of the game, this old, almost amateur mentality still exists and, come June and July, many sides from the Championship and below will jet-off to a warm weather base as part of their preparation for 2015/16. They’ll do bleep-tests in the heat, they’ll destroy a bar or two and then they’ll come back, sun-burnt and ready.

In the Premier League, it’s a little different. The division’s elite won’t plot their pre-season in accordance with footballing merit, but in a way that allows them to exploit commercial vulnerability. Like a modern gold rush, they’ll pack their bags and head for the untapped markets, desperately hunting virgin consumers around whose neck they can wrap an official club scarf.

It’s hearts and minds, just without any of the sincerity.  These tours may be planned and presented under the pretence of giving overseas or displaced supporters a chance to feel part of the fan-family, but really they are a cash-harvest.  This Summer, as per tradition, Premier League clubs will figuratively drive their branded vans through the busy streets of downtown Doha, Sydney and wherever else, wind down the windows, and invite the locals to throw-in their loose change.

Then they’ll disappear back to England, pockets bulging and social media accounts swollen.

The clubs didn’t create this reality. Football is about money and income and there is now an inextricable link between air miles and success. To buy that Colombian winger, Chelsea must show-up and glad-hand the staff at an Asian tyre manufacturer. To pay that Argentinian’s wages, Manchester United’s first-team must be pictured enjoying that American potato snack.

So, of course, we all understand why this happens. But isn’t there an ethical argument to be had around this topic?

Pretend, if you can, that there is no Premier League and that English football is a barren, underdeveloped landscape populated with mediocre players and unimpressive stadia. Pretend also that the league is new and that football, although growing, is battling with other sports for supremacy.

Imagine being a supporter in that environment and watching a behemoth team fly into your country once every couple of years, play a few exhibitions, and leave with the loyalties of your fanbase in their hand-luggage.

It would be pretty galling.

At the end of the current campaign, three Premier League sides will head to Australia for post-season friendlies. Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea are all reacting to growing interest in that part of the world by booking themselves in at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane and the Sydney Oval, in a bid to take financial advantage of that surge in enthusiasm.

Smart business, certainly, but also horribly cynical - and potentially detrimental to Australia’s own domestic competition, the Hyundai A-League.

A developing territory is like a newly-seeded lawn: it needs the right conditions to grow and mature. What it doesn’t need - ever - is for some artificial force to redirect all the available light, carbon dioxide and water to another patch of grass which is already fully-developed.

That’s what these Premier League clubs are doing. The A-League is growing in stature and its respective teams all have their own loyal fans, but for it to continue on an upward curve it requires protection - and dangling Eden Hazard, Philippe Coutinho and Christian Eriksen in front of the next generation of Brisbane Roar, West Sydney Wanderers and Sydney FC fans isn’t ‘protection’.

English football has a huge advantage, even overseas. Because of the way our game is broadcast and covered, the players and managers are world famous and globally attractive. Similarly, because of the division’s wealth, the level of talent is far higher than the average Australian fan is used to seeing.

Say you drive a Volkswagon:  it’s reliable, it gets you to work and back and, because it’s served you well, you’re considering buying a new one in a year or two’s time. How would you react if, just for the day, someone lent you an Aston Martin? You can’t keep it, but you’re allowed to drive it around for a couple of hours and pretend that it belongs to you.

How would that make you feel about your Volkswagon? Would you be content with it or would you, having had the experience of the Aston Martin, start to view it as an inferior product?

The football world is healthier when all the talent, support and resources are evenly distributed. That may be a perfect world scenario that could never truly exist, but shouldn’t more be done to prevent the current imbalance from becoming more pronounced? Instead of allowing these giant clubs to make their land-grabs every twelve months, shouldn’t restrictions exist on how often they can tour and how often they can trample on those developing roots?

The fallacy is that, by visiting these regions, the Premier League’s superpowers are doing the locals some kind of favour and that, rather than plundering vikings, they are actually sporting missionaries, sent to share English football’s translucent light.

Looked at in a different way, however, it amounts to little more than colonisation.

Follow @SebSB

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