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IAN LADYMAN: Premier League managers can ease their players' workload by axing pre-season tours

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In the spring of 2013, commercial staff at Manchester United presented Sir Alex Ferguson with a pre-season tour itinerary so gruelling they were astonished that he signed it off.

Turns out it wasn’t Ferguson’s problem. He retired a couple of months later and it fell to David Moyes to lead the tour.

Beginning in Bangkok for a game, it then headed further east to Sydney for two more, before turning back on itself to Japan. It lasted the best part of three weeks and, in the years before the pandemic struck, was not particularly unusual.

United were the market leaders in these ventures. In terms of making money, England’s biggest club has been ahead of the curve for decades. Unsurprisingly, other clubs soon followed.

Manchester United were the market leaders for ventures such as worldwide pre-season tours

Manchester United were the market leaders for ventures such as worldwide pre-season tours

A number of top-flight clubs followed United's lead and arranged tours across the globe

 A number of top-flight clubs followed United’s lead and arranged tours across the globe

Having been on a good number of these tours — to Asia, America and Australia — I know a little of what they can be like for players. They are tiring, demanding and boring and, if it was up to Premier League managers across the country, they simply would not happen.

But player welfare is placed secondary to the need and the desire to make money.

For a while, managers such as Arsene Wenger at Arsenal resisted. He simply refused. But eventually even he acquiesced to his club’s desire to further its reach across the globe.

All of which makes complaints by Premier League managers about players being over-stretched a little hard to stomach. If the well-being of the country’s best players really was uppermost in the minds of the clubs they play for, they could ease the load themselves.

United's Ralf Rangnick is one of many bosses to have slammed the Christmas schedule

United’s Ralf Rangnick is one of many bosses to have slammed the Christmas schedule

The pressures placed on managers in recent weeks have been severe. The current Covid wave has washed through our four professional divisions without mercy.

Pep Guardiola at Manchester City has talked of a player strike. Ralf Rangnick at United has questioned the value of the Carabao Cup. Most worryingly of all, Norwich City’s Dean Smith says he fielded a player with a high temperature in a recent game against Aston Villa. He admits it was dangerous, so if that was the case Smith shouldn’t have picked him. A look at the Norwich line-up for that game shows a full complement of substitutes.

This is not an ideal situation and managers such as Smith, Guardiola and Rangnick do have genuine and understandable concerns. But they have to be placed in the context of how our clubs routinely behave.

The standard at the foot of the Premier League has been desperately low for a while now and we could probably benefit from an 18-club division.

That would lift the quality a little and ease the load on the players. But how many clubs would vote for that? Two fewer places at the top table? Four fewer matches per club to sell to TV? It’s never going to happen.

European football continues to expand at a relentless pace, meanwhile. The Champions League will doubtless grow fatter before long and we already have an extra UEFA competition, one so irrelevant that even Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers could not remember the name of it.

These are the things that place the burden on players. These are the things that really cause the problem. If clubs cared enough to tackle them — and stay home for the occasional pre-season — then a couple of quick-fire games over Christmas would not look so terrifying after all.

Manchester United’s interim manager Ralf Rangnick has been given carte blanche to do what he likes at Old Trafford and has assembled a new coaching staff with not a whiff of Premier League experience between them.

Ewan Sharp, Chris Armas and sports psychologist Sascha Lense draw the vast majority of their credentials from work in America, Germany and Russia.

Whether they turn out to be brave or naive appointments by Rangnick will no doubt be determined by United’s results.

Jack Grealish was largely popular among staff at Aston Villa but his occasionally unpredictable approach to life off the field was mostly tolerated because he was the club’s best player.

Jack Grealish must buckle down at Man City

Jack Grealish must buckle down at Man City

At Manchester City, Grealish needs to realise he will not be afforded that luxury. His night out with team-mate Phil Foden after City walloped Leeds before Christmas looks to have been relatively tame, but was enough to prompt his manager Pep Guardiola to drop him from his team and then tell the world exactly why.

Two things spring to mind here. The first is that Grealish’s form has not been good enough since he joined City to justify anything other than maximum application to his work. He still has much to do to show he belongs at that level.

The second is that Guardiola’s decision to make public his dissatisfaction was significant. It tells us that he has effectively placed Grealish on notice.

It is unlikely there will be a second chance.

Jurgen Klopp was understandably angry at the inconsistent use of VAR as Liverpool drew at Tottenham a week ago. Harry Kane should have been sent off.

Three days later, however, Liverpool came out on the right side of it in the Carabao Cup at home to Leicester.

With VAR not in use until the semi-finals, Liverpool midfielder Tyler Morton escaped with just a booking for one of the worst tackles of the season on Ricardo Pereira.

A VAR review would undoubtedly have resulted in Morton being sent off in just the 10th minute and in all likelihood Liverpool would have lost a game they eventually won on penalties.

 

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