The International Champions Cup is in its sixth year and it’s only further undermining the feel of big games in the Premier League and the Champions League. It simply shouldn’t exist, no matter how many kits Spurs want to sell in the US and Singapore.
The commercialisation of football may well cross a few lines in terms of taking the soul away from clubs, but the rivalries have always been maintained – albeit redefined internationally as a money fight between billionaires thousands of miles away.
In England, though, they’ve been able to hold onto the history that sees sides fundamentally oppose each other and once genuine dislike is present, sport will always be competitive at a local level, no matter how globally available it becomes.
But exposing sides like the Manchester outfits to each other in pre-season games just adds a repetitive cycle to the matchup and genuinely takes away from the animosity that fades by the year. These sides used to despise each other and even in recent times, they’ve been rivals due to silverware.
It appears now that silverware can stretch to a made-up tournament being held all around the world and clubs are actually expected to celebrate these things. It’s hard to envisage great leaders of the past like Roy Keane or Patrick Vieira buying into this notion.
That’s an issue in and of itself. While we’re supposedly in this era of player power, no single player ever seems to stand up to the club’s board and say these pre-season tournaments are counterproductive and that they couldn’t take on an opposing Premier League side in that environment.
This applies to each of the English sides in this tournament – even though United and Liverpool are the only ones that actually meet each other, the fact you group clubs together in a table is symbolic enough to suggest someone somewhere is taking it seriously.
Of course, the only reason it even occurs is because clubs get money, their increase their brand awareness and they appeal to global audiences who would, for some reason or another, adopt a side they have absolutely no connection to. It also completely warps the perceptions that global audiences have of games between the sides.
Think about what a football club means to its fans – its base. It’s representative of an area first and foremost – that’s now been eroded away because you can guarantee no tourist steps foot in Salford. It stands for its history – which is made of hundreds of years of rivalries.
These games are defined by their permutations and the occasion that comes along with them. Call me a cynic, but I’m not sure John O’Shea’s last-minute winner at Anfield or Fabio Aurelio’s free-kick at Old Trafford are embedded into the fandom of the global audience.
There’s a history that elevates these fixtures to another level, but without the embracement of such, they could be any two clubs on the planet playing in any given place at any given time. You cannot expect the players to be unaffected by this, so you cannot expect the rivalries not to become stale off the back of these exhibitions.
Friendlies have long served a purpose – they’re done to improve fitness and work on a couple of tactical tweaks as well as assessing squad players. But we’re slowly moving towards rugby’s hilarious ‘test’ logic, where nations or clubs face off in an exhibition style environment and those in attendance expect over the top celebrations. Football cannot become that, nor should it ever evolve into a product that reflects those values.
International series games work in other sports – there’s no reason Arsenal and Chelsea couldn’t play a Premier League game in the United States if the offer was big enough, but to have meaningless games taking place against familiar opposition only three weeks out from the respective domestic seasons beginning is counterproductive.
Bringing actual competitive games adds excitement and could potentially make football more affordable domestically – by bringing the product elsewhere, it could reduce the number of tourists we see at games in England that typically dilute the atmosphere created in heated stadia up and down the country.
Instead, nobody wins. Host countries get diluted intensity and second-string players, squads have to adjust their preparations by jetting off, the tradition takes a hit because sides face off in non-competitive environments and we all have to read about Liverpool fans declaring they’re going to win the league because James Milner completed one diagonal pass onto the boot of Divock Origi.
Premier League delusion, ahoy.