Sunday, 28 July 2013

How Asia Tours Reduce Your Team's Title Winning Chances

The thrills and spills of the title race may be three weeks away but football fans could be forgiven for thinking the Premier League is already in full swing.

Manchester City, Spurs and Sunderland have been going head-to-head in the Asia Trophy in Hong Kong whilst Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool are also involved in high-profile games in the Far East.

But these matches are not about points, just the prize of collecting a new following in a growing market place and the chance to rake in several million in performance fees.

United are collecting big bags of loot for travelling to Thailand, Australia and Japan while Chelsea are also cashing in by showing off their star names in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.

The money men back home must be rubbing their hands with glee as they watch their expensive stars sweat out their summer excesses in the stifling Asia humidity.

And although they can point to pots of gold for their troubles, it has been hard to quantify the damage these energy sapping tours are doing to a club's chances of winning the title.

No-one has studied whether the continent hopping, jet-lag inducing, bit and pieces styles of a modern pre-season in the Far East affects results when the Premier League's big clubs return?

Football Stories has carried out a special investigation to find out if an Asia summer leads to a winter of discontent.
And the brutal truth will have the marketing men at the top teams hiding under their desks.

For we have discovered that a Far East tour seriously diminishes a team's chances of winning the title.

Only one team has toured Asia in the past 10 years and come home to win the title and that was Manchester United in 2007.

The other nine times that teams toured Asia they missed out on Premier League glory.

Manchester United did fly out to China for a one-off game last season and claimed top spot in May - but it was a whistle stop trip and not a full blown tour.

Compare that to shindigs to South Africa, which is on the same time zone as the United Kingdom. 

The three times Manchester United travelled there - in 2012, 2008 and 2006 - they returned to finish the campaign as champions.

Manchester City also headed down to Cape Town in 2009 but at that time were not at a level to compete for the title.

Winner (Pre-season tour destination)
Manchester U (South Africa)
Manchester C (Asia)
Chelsea (North America)
Manchester C (North America)
Manchester U (North America)
Arsenal (Asia)
Manchester U (North America)
Chelsea (Europe)
Manchester City  (North America)
Chelsea (North America)
Manchester U (Asia)
Arsenal (Europe)
Manchester U (South Africa)
Liverpool (Europe)
Chelsea (China/Russia)
Manchester U (Asia)
Chelsea (North America)
Arsenal (Europe)
Manchester U (South Africa)
Chelsea (North America)
Liverpool (Europe)

Trips to North America also bring a lot more success than heading east with teams taking the tag of being domestic top dogs five times out of nine tours to the US and Canada.

Probably most surprising is the fact no team has in the past decade has won a title having spent their pre-season in Europe.

That could be down to the fact it is Arsenal and Liverpool, probably not the strongest title contenders in the time frame, who have most frequently hopped over the channel.

So just why does a trip to Asia leave Premier League clubs struggling to get to grips with winning the title?

Current players refuse to go on the record about their true feelings of touring Asia for fear of upsetting their managers — or sponsors — with negative views.

But one ex-pro who hated touring the Far East was Jaap Stam. Apart from his belief the constant flying stopped him getting a proper pre-season under his belt, effecting his form at the beginning of a campaign, he also grew fed up of the hassle of touring.

He said of United's 1999 Far East tour: “By the time we got to Hong Kong, for the last leg of the journey we just wanted to go home.

“All the travelling and the 'pop star' reaction we received from the locals was starting to take its toll.

“When we finally boarded the flight home, I no longer cared about my adverse reaction to flying. I just wanted to get home.”

Tour Destination
Percentage of title winners
South Africa - Four tours
North America - Nine tours
Asia - Ten tours
Europe - Ten tours

Bolton’s Head of Sports Performance Mark Leather is certainly no fan of the long haul pre-season tour.

“When I was at Liverpool in the late 90s we would always go to Scandinavia. You knew the opposition were tough and fit and generally speaking the pitches you played at were decent.

"In the years that followed the club were encouraged to go further afield, just as Manchester City, Tottenham and Sunderland have now, to Hong Kong.

"It is a commercial decision to go out there. Managers probably wouldn’t want to go there in the first place and will have expressed that opinion to the directors months in advance.

"If the pitches are waterlogged you wouldn’t want your players training on them. It’s really counterproductive. In the UK you’d change your plan and maybe go in the gym, or the pool. 

"You certainly wouldn’t do ball work. But hard surfaces can also carry a risk of injury. During acceleration and deceleration, achilles or patellar tendons can be damaged and hamstrings can get tight.”

A leading Northern Ireland sports doctor has looked into how a pre-season tour can effect performances during a season but revealed there is not enough evidence to suggest players will suffer burnout because of the extra travelling.

He said: “Analysing the longer term effect of air travel on performance is problematic for many reasons. 

“The data strictly analysing an episode of travel and subsequent results on performance are limited; therefore, it is difficult to glean an overall understanding of its impact.

“There is significant variation in many of the available results that contribute to the base of knowledge on this topic highlighting the difficulties in studying this issue.

“In many studies, sample size is small possibly due to the logistics of organising air travel among a population of elite athletes willing to participate in a scientific study.”

While there is no medical science to suggest heading off on a trip to Asia will stop teams winning the title, the fact exists that only one team has done it.

But that is not enough to stop Chelsea's Jose Mourinho taking his players off around the world.

He believes seeing the excitement on the faces of the club's Asian fans makes the trips worthwhile.

Mourinho said: “If you go to Asia where the people are already crazy about football and it is amazing, I think you have to go to feed that passion.

“You go there very happy because you are playing friendly matches with 60,000 to 70,000 fans.

“And the people are in the street chasing you and they are surrounding the hotel waiting for a picture or autograph, so I think every big team should go.

“I was talking to the players this week and because of the passion, we go there with a smile.”

Tour Destination of top five sides
Average points over first six games
South Africa
North America


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