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Coronavirus sidelines lucrative preseason for Premier League elite



In the golden days of 2019, major Premier League footballers were spending the preseason collecting passport stamps at the rate Roy Keane once racked up yellow cards.

Two years ago, Keane’s successors in Manchester United’s first XI toured Australia – where they went on to defeat the Leeds United Championship 4-0 to 55,274 in Perth – followed by other fixtures in Singapore, Shanghai and Oslo.

Crossing three continents swelled Old Trafford’s coffers by at least £ 12million in court fees alone. Sponsorship partnerships and merchandising opportunities added six-figure additional sums to overall profit but, two years later, the collateral damage inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic all but wiped out those lucrative escapades.

Tellingly, Manchester United will not be traveling abroad this summer and, having canceled their plans for a game in Malta, will not venture further than London (where they will face QPR, Derby and Preston.

Transcontinental expeditions

Although as elite athletes, Premier League footballers playing international friendlies enjoy a UK government exemption from international travel quarantine regulations, the standard rules apply to teams. who simply train abroad.

Additionally, the logistics of long-haul tours in Asia and the United States dictate that planning must begin about six months in advance – meaning most top clubs have given up on the idea of ​​expeditions. transcontinental in January or February.

The two outliers are Arsenal and Everton who will travel to the United States to join Internazionale and Colombia’s Millonarios in the Florida Cup at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, while the majority of their domestic rivals remain in the Kingdom. -United. The handful that ventures into Europe include Liverpool, who are gearing up for the new campaign in Austria and Germany, and Wolves who are softening in Spain.

Rather than cashing in commercially in the Far East and the United States, Premier League champions Manchester City are expected to make a solitary foray abroad, to Troyes de France, another member of the City Football Group.

Everything seems a different world from 2019 when Pep Guardiola’s players combined a then-regular visit to China (Chinese investors hold a significant 13% stake in City) with a tour of Japan.

Two years ago Chelsea were also in Yokohama, but now the Champions League holders have settled down for an Irish training camp.

Before the pandemic, Dar es Salaam seemed a bit better business bet than Dublin, with Africa no longer too far away for Premier League marketing managers. Two summers ago, Everton traveled to Kenya, playing the Kariobangi Sharks in Nairobi as part of their sponsorship deal with SportPesa and made further trips to East Africa in a growing newspaper. charge.

Indeed, in the decade leading up to when the music stopped in 2020, England’s top top clubs have played more pre-season matches away from home than at home, with fewer a third in the UK. In midsummer, it was as much about maximizing the brand’s global reach as it was about building peak fitness levels.

With satellite broadcasters bringing England’s flagship league to lounges around the world, helping to secure valuable overseas TV deals has become very important. The latest three-year deal the Premier League signed with beIN Sports Doha for Middle East and North Africa rights alone is worth £ 367million (€ 428million).

Still, as Newcastle United wait to see whether the active arbitration case between club owner Mike Ashley and the Premier League will facilitate a previously blocked Saudi takeover of Tyneside, their players’ horizons have contracted.

Escape to Yorkshire

With the discontinuation of a training camp in Portugal, Newcastle have instead decamped to St Ethelburga’s Collegiate in North Yorkshire, an independent school with stellar sports facilities. That’s a far cry from two years ago when they flew to China, not to mention the 2014 New Zealand tour which coincided with a world-class expansion of Ashley’s Sports Direct business. .

Some early teammates are missing from St Ethelburga due to self-isolation rules, but Newcastle are far from alone. While many footballers have yet to be doubly vaccinated, mini-virus outbreaks associated with unwanted calls from Test and Trace officials, and the need to self-quarantine after vacations abroad, is proving to be an unwanted feature of this preseason.

It’s not an ideal preamble to a new campaign, but some managers, especially Jürgen Klopp of Liverpool, are surely secretly delighted that they avoided the exhaustion of switching between time zones while their owners pursue increased Asian and American profits.

Sean Dyche has never been a fan of commercial-oriented summer touring, but the Burnley manager enjoys European training camps and is rightly disappointed that the quarantine rules have forced his team’s proposed replacement in Austria. by a stay at the training ground.

“He [quarantine on return] seemed a little inhuman, so we pulled the trip off, ”he said. “But we had planned to use Austria as a psychological break in the middle of intensive training.”

As countless Premier League counterparts are discovering, a change can really be as good as a rest. – Guardian