[dropcap]P[/dropcap]re-season is a peculiar time of the footballing calendar, with little-to-no importance afforded to the pre-cursor to competitive football.
The month or so before domestic European campaigns kick off has changed over time, with in the past this period being used as a way of sharpening players up before the start of a new campaign.
In recent times, pre-season has evolved and it can now be argued that the time before the league season starts prioritises off-the-field issues.
Most major clubs have now realised that pre-season is a time that can be used to bolster bank balances, with lucrative foreign tours embarked on in a mission to generate revenue.
The logic behind the tactic is undeniable, with fan markets in America, Asia and Australia to be tapped into and countless new supporters to be recruited.
This furthering of the brand tactic certainly has its benefits away from the actual action, as the money raised over time through the adoption of new fans could well play its part in signing a club’s new superstar.
However, with the travel involved and the meaninglessness of the actual games, it is fair to question whether these pre-season trips are honing the current team for the resumption of competitive action.
This shift in priorities in pre-season could well be damaging certain teams’ chances of hitting the ground running, with English champions Chelsea a classic example.
Eight games into the new Premier League season and the Stamford Bridge side sit in an unfamiliar 16th position with only eight points to show for their efforts to date.
Following a 3-1 home reverse at the hands of Southampton yesterday, José Mourinho’s men have now lost four league games in 2015-16; one more than they did during the entirety of last term.
Although other contributing factors can be accredited for this sluggish start, the West London club’s lukewarm pre-season campaign may well have had a bearing on the club’s early-season woes.
Chelsea are certainly one of the world’s most popular teams, with ventures overseas in the summer essential for pushing the brand but clearly doing little to prepare the team for the demands of a new Premier League term.
Trips to Thailand, Australia and the United States were undertaken by Mourinho’s men, with games against underwhelming or unmotivated opposition not worth the time or effort.
After slender 1-0 wins over a Thailand All-Stars team and Sydney FC in a post-season trip, the first game of pre-season saw a modest opponent claim victory over the English champions, as Chelsea were humbled 4-2 by MLS outfit New York Red Bulls.
Alarm bells should have been ringing at that point but the defeat was labelled unimportant and matter-of-fact given the corresponding efforts of the Chelsea players.
This fixture was followed up by uninspiring fixtures against Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona in the USA, with not many of the players concerned with the outcome of the clashes.
After time away from the game, older players cannot simply turn up and expect to operate at maximum capacity, as the likes of John Terry and Branislav Ivanović are finding out this term.
The lack of a proper challenge in pre-season and an inability to take the on-the-field action seriously has clearly hurt Chelsea and played its part in the Blues’ slow start.
Chelsea’s pre-season started later than a lot of their fellow Premier League equivalents and took in only five friendlies; one bafflingly three days before the new campaign started.
This was clearly rushed and not adequate, with the Blues still looking a yard off the pace in their opening day 2-2 draw with Swansea and not starting the 2015-16 campaign anywhere near top gear.
Compared to London rivals Crystal Palace and West Ham, who have started the new season well, Chelsea’s poor preparation becomes clear.
The Selhurst Park and Boleyn Ground sides played eight and 12 warm-up and Europa League qualification games respectively and as such entered the new campaign ready to make an impression.
The lesson in it all is that revenue raising and pushing the club’s brand in pre-season is now essential in a competitive fan market, but neglecting the action on the pitch can have dire consequences.
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