Liverpool vs Manchester United in Bangkok is a promoter’s dream: a confrontation between the two biggest clubs from the world’s biggest league, and a match played in front of fans who might get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Seeing their heroes playing close to their podium seats. But for the players, Tuesday’s friendly match in Thailand, and others like them, are nightmares.
Footballers fear pre-season tours. High-profile friendlies and dual practice sessions in the heat and humidity, with body and mind tormented by jet lag, are bad enough, but it’s the off-field events that make the game’s top players greet their summer fright with trepidation rather than excitement. .
“The tours are relentless,” a former United executive told ESPN. “The players hate them because the work situation is inescapable. They train, play and try to rest, but if there is a one-hour gap in the schedule, they will meet sponsors, sign shirts for VIP fans, or be asked in front of a commercial for one of the club’s partners.”
Even former Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal urged new boss Erik ten Hag to be wary of taking on the job at what he described as the “commercial club” earlier this year.
Tin Hag will soon learn what Van Gaal was hinting at as he experienced life on tour with United over the next two and a half weeks: Hundreds of fans welcomed Tin Hag and his 31-man squad at Don Mueang International in Bangkok. The airport before participating in an official reception at the terminal building on Saturday morning.
One United player spoke of the club “taking the initiative” in one of its recent summer runs, as the team was “cut and cubed” to meet sponsor requirements before and after training. But it’s not just United. All the leading clubs embark on profitable trips to Asia or the United States, with the aim of reaching their long-distance supporters, but also to grow their brand and, most importantly, pay off sponsors who spend millions to attach their corporate logo to a charming and world-famous football team. A source in Liverpool told ESPN that their trip to Thailand and Singapore, where they play Crystal Palace on Friday, is the “commercial round” before coach Jurgen Klopp can return to real pre-season action with a training camp in Austria.
But that’s why players and managers have no choice but to duck when their club sends them halfway around the world for a friendly match, when they may be preparing for the new season without such distraction.
Back in 2012, United took the 8,000-mile, 16-hour flight from Cape Town to Shanghai to play one game, against Shanghai Shenhua, in order to help launch a new partnership with General Motors (GM), which agreed a deal for the club to use Chevrolet as a partner. Official cars. GM wanted to grow its brand in China and was willing to pay United to help do so. In terms of football preparation, traveling so far for one match has been a brutal test of the players’ physical and mental strength.
With flight time, humidity, and a time difference of seven hours, the flight made absolutely no sense. But by traveling to China, United made a commitment to Chevrolet and hit the jackpot by doing so.
Sources told ESPN that the company’s top executives were so stunned by United’s popularity in a city of 28 million that they tore up the partnership papers and instead offered to give the club £63m a year to get their name in the squad. shirts And the He became the main sponsor of United. It was a world record – United’s sponsors at the time, Owen, were only paying £20m a year – which made the grueling journey from South Africa pay off in staggering fashion. On the pitch, United beat Shanghai 1-0, but the match may have been inconspicuous due to the festive champagne that the commercial team drank.
Every club now wants their own “Chevrolet moment”, which is why football ranks second every July every summer. The players are paying the price, but when Liverpool awarded Mohamed Salah a new contract worth £350,000-a-week this summer, the striker will surely know that the top sponsors are what enables the club to pay him superbly, and therefore they want it. something comes back.
“Everyone was exhausted by the time we got back.”
Sometimes, players really enjoy the more creative PR games. When the Chevrolet deal with United was launched during their US tour in 2014, Wayne Rooney and Darren Fletcher got the keys to a Chevrolet Camaro convertible and were photographed driving through Beverly Hills wearing their new clothes, the sponsor logo is there for all to see. Later that day, the pair were sent to sign footballs at a Los Angeles fire station – perhaps less glamorous – and one of the senior players recalled how exhausted their five-game tour had been.
“The training was at 8.30 a.m., and he was sent to the rooms for two hours of rest, training after lunch, back to video meetings and discussing tactics,” he told ESPN. “Then go back to the rooms, dinner of toast and sleep in the 10th half. Every day for 14 days, business too. We were exhausted by the time we got home and lost the first game of the season.”
On that tour, Van Gaal was so furious with the schedule and planning that he ordered the club to book rooms in a hotel near the training ground in suburban Los Angeles so the players could sleep between sessions, rather than have them travel again. Their lavish base is at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Rodeo Drive.
Liverpool also had its problems during the Tour. In 2015, nerves began to rattle through the dying embers of Brendan Rodgers’ reign as manager, and his trip to Thailand, Malaysia and Australia was marred by monsoons that forced a one-match suspension in Bangkok. There was also a moment of pure comedy when, after a prickly press conference, Rodgers was carried away from the media center in a golf cart, then crashed into the back of a stationary cart in front of the cameras.
The two-week trip took place in ‘Melwood time’ – a time zone named after the club’s training ground at the time in Liverpool – as the club attempted to minimize the effects of jet lag by spending the full two weeks four hours ahead of the UK time. time regardless of their location. It didn’t work out,” a source told ESPN. “No one slept properly, half of the team had colds and bugs, and everyone was exhausted by the time we got back to Liverpool.”
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Twelve months later, United and Manchester City have spent a week in China preparing for the first-ever derby for Manchester outside the country, which will take place at Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium. But heavy rain flooded the pitch, destroying the grass and causing parts of the grass to scatter. The match was canceled and both clubs returned to Manchester. Perhaps it was, too, as a group of United players stranded for hours in Tianjin after bad weather forced the plane to divert, prompting Memphis Depay to post a video from a shaded building.
“We got lost somewhere…we had to make a quick landing somewhere,” Depay said. “We tried to travel to Beijing, but the weather was a bit bad so we had to land somewhere else. I hope we can leave soon so we can prepare for the game against Manchester City.”
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Getting the work done, but also getting ready for the season
Perhaps an insight into the world of high-profile footballers is that anything but the perfect setup they have in the Premier League leads to discomfort and frustration during the tour. A source told ESPN that players generally prefer summer in the US because all but the most famous stars can “walk down Fifth Avenue anonymously”. It’s a different story in Asia, where many fans slept outside The Shilla Hotel in Seoul, during United’s visits in 2007 and 2009, just to take a picture of their favorite player or sign a shirt. Meanwhile, United’s commercial team struck a four-year partnership with a South Korean tire company during their 2007 visit.
In Australia in 2013, United’s security team had to plead with a nightclub owner to allow players to hide inside after then-manager David Moyes took the team for a beach walk without realizing they would be assaulted by fans. A United source said: “David did this with Everton on a previous trip.” “But despite his warning that it would be different with United, he took out the players. It was a mess within 10 minutes.”
Tin Hag will be warned to avoid similar attempts to break the monotony of his players in Thailand and Australia as he discovers first-hand the unique pressure from a pre-season tour with one of the biggest clubs in the game, but it will be a demanding journey on and off the pitch. Preparing the team for the season is, after all, a priority.
United chartered a Boeing 747 jumbo, with business class seats throughout, to take the team to Bangkok, but less than half of those on board shared the playing crew. the rest? Club executives and commercial team members who, after two years without an opportunity to benefit from the United brand due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will be tasked with taking every additional minute to boost revenue streams and, in particular, ensuring that United’s official financial services partner in Thailand (Yes , they have one) a lot of interest. Liverpool also enjoys regular income from Thailand thanks to its partnership with Chaokoh, a Thai coconut water brand.
For every player at one of the top clubs, the pre-season rounds are all the same: training, football, jet lag, working hours as a walking billboard. But those big contracts and transfer fees have to be paid, and clubs have to find a way. Players don’t like it, but it’s a price they simply have to pay.