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21st Jul 2019

A guide to reading far too much into pre-season friendlies

In case you're out of practise (or just weird enough to watch with a healthy indifference), here are the basic tenets of reading far too much into pre-season.

Nooruddean Choudry

Friendly ire

Let’s be honest. If you’re not reading too much into pre-season friendlies, you’re not doing it right. It may only feel like yesterday since the Women’s World Cup ended, and the day before yesterday since the Champions League final (I forget who won it), but the sight of glistening players taking a drinks break in obscene temperatures on delayed streams is truly a sight for sore eyes.

By the time your team are striding out in Malaysia or Australia or somewhere to fervent locals who’ve waited years or perhaps even a lifetime for such a moment, you are so starved of club football – living without for literally weeks – that you’ll overanalyse and obsess over every last detail to gain *some* understanding about how the coming season proper will play out for your team.

In case you’re out of practise (or just weird enough to watch with a healthy indifference), here are the basic tenets of reading far too much into pre-season.

Notice your stringy winger is now a ‘tank’

The very nature of pre-season training is that players are going through a very intense and sustained period of exercise. As such, many of the photos taken in training will show them either during or directly after a solid work-out. Does that explain their bulging biceps and inflated calves? Fuck no. They’ve clearly gone through a Hulk style metamorphosis over the summer and will destroy the opposition through brute force. Huzzah!

Billowing shirts and too many barbecues

The flip-side of the above is when a player is photographed (it’s nearly always a photo because moving pictures are less conducive to viral condemnation) with what looks like a bit of extra girth (around the midriff you dirty bugger). Whether it’s an unflattering angle, or simply a flappy jersey acting as an unfortunate wind pocket, is largely irrelevant – you’re well within your rights to condemn them for being an unprofessional layabout who enjoyed BBQ season far too much.

Your new signing is clearly the second coming

OMG! Did you see that thing your new signing did in that gif or short Twitter video that’s literally just a snapshot of their overall performance in a largely irrelevant exhibition game?! It should be taken with a pinch of salt, right? BULLSHIT. Piss off and take your measured opinions with you.

The kids are alright (and ready to start every game)

For some, a new signing to get genuinely excited about is nothing more than a pipe-dream. We’re at the arse end of July and your chief exec is still dithering over the last 5 million to sign a much-needed recruit. Time is fast running out and you’re not hopeful. But then, hey presto! A youngster from the academy plays in a meaningless friendly and doesn’t fuck up. You suddenly have someone to place all your hopes and dreams in. No pressure then!

Body talks (and we all speak the language)

Football’s summer months are pure soap opera. Back pages and timelines are awash with transfer shenanigans, come-and-get-me pleas, and wantaway rumours. Even entirely fabricated stories result in irate fans claiming their star player can ‘fuck off if that’s how they feel’, before the inevitable denial. Pre-season is the perfect opportunity to micro-analyse non-verbal behaviour and become an overnight expert is body language with comments such as, “Well, he’s clearly not happy is he? Look at the way he scratched his nose there…”

Lastly and most importantly: ignore the opposition

This is the most important one. React to every good result or impressive individual performance with utter conviction that it’s an omen for the new season – regardless of who the opposition is. Whether it’s a big team resting all their first-team players, or a second-tier Norwegian outfit with an injury crisis, it matters not. Just read far too much into it. The real trick is actually pretending you’ve considered all the mitigating factors, i.e. “I know it’s only against the Go Ahead Eagles’ reserves and it’s only a friendly but…”, and then ignoring what you’ve just said with needless hyperbole, i.e. “…but this game proves that the new lad up front will score at least 20 goals this season.” Perfect.