The summer has been a short one, but not too sweet for those reading too much into pre-season results and performances. ATFV columnist Guto Llewellyn has some calming words for the doubters as the new season starts in earnest today……
Pre-season friendlies are basically glorified kick-abouts, a chance for players to get some fitness without overdoing things and an opportunity for fans to watch their team for the first time in months.
They’re football’s answer to daytime TV: relaxing, familiar viewing to help you pass the time while you wait for the more serious stuff to start. It’s football you can watch without having to overwork your brain.
At least that’s how it should be.
Swansea’s final match of pre-season this summer was away at League One Charlton.
Less than five minutes into the game, Harry Darling’s casual and careless pass comically found its way past Andy Fisher and into the Swansea goal. Darling was left red-faced by the error but it was a meaningless friendly, so he didn’t waste too much time worrying about it.
Swansea, playing an experimental formation, didn’t look great in the first half but they turned it around in the second and scored twice to win the match. Joel Piroe scored again, Cameron Congreve got a stylish assist for Ryan Manning’s winner, the players had a good run out and most importantly, nobody got injured ahead of the new season.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s as far as anybody should read into this result and performance, but some supporters can’t help themselves.
A strangely high number of fans took to social media to scrutinise, rant and berate.
Apparently a summer kick-about in East London was proof that the squad wasn’t strong enough, Russell Martin wasn’t up to the job and the Swans’ prospects for the forthcoming campaign looked hopeless.
Some even complained about a lack of intensity in the performance. These people expected intensity in a pre-season friendly? From which planet exactly were they tweeting this nonsense?
Thankfully there were plenty on hand to point out that this game was largely irrelevant when assessing how Swansea would perform over the coming months, but many still didn’t want to listen.
When have friendlies ever been an indication of things to come? There are so many examples of Swansea having mediocre pre-season results, only to thrive when the season actually got underway.
Prior to our first season back in the top flight in 2011, Swansea lost to Hereford United. Their last game before their Premier League opener was a 1-1 draw against Haverfordwest. Funnily enough, those results weren’t as ominous as some suggested and Swansea exceeded everybody’s expectations to finish in mid-table.
The following year saw Swansea lose to Neath Athletic and the United Arab Emirates’ Olympic football team, results which should have been surefire signs of second season syndrome. Of course they meant nothing and the Swans won their league opener 5-0 before going on to win the League Cup and qualify for Europe.
In 2014 the Swans finished their pre-season with a 3-0 defeat at home to Villarreal. There was some serious panicking after that one but a week later Garry Monk took his team to Old Trafford and won 2-1. That season saw the club achieve the second highest league finish in its entire history.
More recently, there was plenty of tiresome overreaction after the Swans lost 7-1 to Southampton in 2020. Rather than being a sign of impending doom, it meant very little as the Swans reached the play-off final that season.
It works both ways. There have been pre-seasons where Swansea have swept aside all challengers, only to flop spectacularly when the serious football began.
In 2016 Swansea won five of their six friendlies but went on to have a disastrous start to their Premier League campaign, requiring a great escape to keep them up.
The following year Swansea ended their pre-season with a thumping 4-0 win over Serie A side Sampdoria. In theory it should have been the perfect preparation for the new campaign but Swansea had a nightmare season which saw them relegated at the end of the season.
I’m not saying Swansea will definitely have a brilliant season but friendlies are one of the last things we should be basing our judgements on. Whether the results are good or bad, friendlies are pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of things and focusing too much on them is a waste of everybody’s energy.
But it’s symptomatic of a modern culture which says we need to analyse everything to death.
In an age where interviews, tweets and even body language are scrutinised to the nth degree, should we be surprised that fans view friendlies in this way?
When Premier League players like Darwin Núñez have their training sessions picked apart like corpses in an autopsy, of course fans are going to believe friendlies should be subject to a similar treatment.
Not everything in football contains a big nugget of insight for us all to find. Not everything has a greater meaning for us all to decipher.
If you’re going to take absolutely everything this seriously, you’re unlikely to get much enjoyment out of football. You don’t need to stress over absolutely everything. Summer is a time to relax and unwind. Leave the fire and fury until the season starts properly.