The healing value of end of season junior tournaments


This season wasn’t great. Because the Premier League wasn’t particularly competitive and because Chelsea were that much better than every other side in the division, the last four months of the campaign had a rather stale quality.

When that happens, the Premier League broadcasters and the reporting media sources always respond in the same way: when the actual football doesn’t produce enough of that special kind of hyperbole, artificial talking points are harvested from the game’s periphery. Managerial bluster, transfer rhetoric, faux controversies; there was far too much of that in 2014/15 and it was exhausting. There now exists such determination to sustain the football news-cycle across each and every day, that the white noise has become overly=prominent.

The effect is most unwelcome. Because a lot of the content being pumped into football world is inorganic, it has a jarring quality that makes it difficult to bear. It’s continually demanded that you care about what Manager X said in a press-conference or that you invest yourself in whether Player Y is actually going to make that big money move in the Summer; it’s like being repeatedly punched in the face.

All the stories are so sensational, the talking points must always be so divisive, and each little incident is portrayed as being so crucial.

That’s part of the appeal in end of season tournaments. No, not the world-conquering senior ones, but the age group competitions. They are the antidote to the domestic club season, events for those who love the game but who loathe the surrounding melodrama and who resent spending three-quarters of the year being told how terribly, terribly important every incidental moment really is.

By contrast, there’s something welcoming about these competitions.

Yesterday, the annual U23 tournament in Toulon began, with Holland defeating Costa Rica and France proving far too strong for the United States. The appeal wasn’t in the football, good as it was, but in its simplicity. Because the anything below senior level is of little interest to the mass-media, there has been no build-up and the competition has arrived out of the blue, pre-empted by no expectation.

Similarly, although staged in an idyllic part of the world, the games attract sparse crowds. Atmosphere is one of top-level football’s most important components, but after eight months of chanting, flairs and derision, there’s definitely room for a set of fixtures during which the players can be heard calling to one another and the sound of foot striking ball can be heard echoes around the French Riviera.

It’s a bit of a strange contrast, admittedly, but it really just emphasises where the focus lies: on the sport itself.

It’s also interesting to note how much cleaner the play is, both in a literal and figurative sense. Time-wasting is fairly minimal, players don’t square up to each other and, by contrast, this is a form of the game almost devoid of the dark arts which are usually so common-place. These games have no great long-term significance and they will be forgotten almost as soon as they finish, but they showcase the sport in a very pure form. It’s football, but steam-cleaned.

Some will use Toulon - and the many competitions like it - for amateur scouting purposes and will use the games as the basis for a series of ‘one to watch’ articles in the future. Fair enough. But to the more casual observer, the type seeking only background entertainment, they have a very wholesome value. They’re played away from the constraints of tribalism and outside the governing mentality of ‘win at all costs’.

They are the Summer breeze to the regular season’s lashing hurricane.

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