Manchester City and China: Commercial benefits at the expense of success?

In the wake of the news that today’s scheduled Manchester derby has been called off due to poor conditions in Beijing, it begs the question; should we even be here? This is the second year that the Blues have travelled to this region for pre-season, having played in Hong Kong during pre-season in 2013. Back then the conditions were equally as dreadful, with it being a wonder that the final game against Sunderland even went ahead. Now in 2016, the same mistakes have been made, with Thursday’s game against Borussia Dortmund also in doubt. Have the club lost sight of the true benefits of pre-season?

It is obvious why the people within the club – those who work on the non-footballing side of the game – would want the team to play in China. City have recently had a 13% stake of the club purchased by a Chinese consortium, and there is little doubt in my mind that this pre-season tour of the country was brought up in the discussions of the £265 million deal. It is no secret that China is a marketing dream for a football club – not only is it the fastest growing economy in the world but it is also one of the fastest growing markets for football. The Chinese Super League is now attracting interest from all around the world, with some of the world’s best players seeing it as a viable option for a big payday. The exposure gained from playing in a country which is home to a population of over 21 times that of the UK, is simply extraordinary. David Gill famously said that “Man City will never be as big as United in Asia”. Well if Mr Gill is to be proven wrong, these visits are essential, at least in the minds of the commercial staff at City.

But this is not what pre-season should be about. Modern football has turned pre-season into one giant marketing campaign, when in fact, it is purely about getting the players into shape and back into a routine for the current season. The problem with these journeys all over the world is that it makes it impossible for the players to get back into a routine when they spend half the time travelling. The majority of the players will have made the exhausting nine and a half hour (minimum) flight to Beijing from Munich, whilst some have had to travel from South America and various other places around the world. That’s before we even get onto the footballing side of things.

By the time the season starts, there is a very realistic possibility that City will have only played two games in the entire pre-season. Sunderland, City’s opponents on the first day, will have played six by that time. We saw the importance of match sharpness the other day as Borussia Dortmund, who had played four matches more than Manchester United already, romped to a 4-1 win over the Stretford-based club. Sunderland have learnt from their mistakes of a few years ago when they travelled to Hong Kong, as they have chosen to stay relatively local, spending their pre-season in England, France and Austria. Unfortunately, City have repeated their mistakes and could be in a very poor position to start what will be an incredibly demanding season. Even if today’s game would have been given the go-ahead, what good would it have done? Playing on a terrible surface would have only endangered the player’s welfare, and in all honesty, we should be thankful that it was called off.

The commercial benefits of this trip are obvious, but the club have well and truly lost sight of the point of pre-season. Many will say ‘who cares? It’s only pre-season,’ but the truth of the matter is, a slow start could be the difference between success and failure in the 2016-17 season. We must hope that for our sake, this monumental error by the club’s staff, doesn’t have a great impact on City’s prospects for the year ahead. If one good thing has come out of this trip, it is that those in charge of organizing pre-season will surely have learnt not to come back to this region at such a crucial time of the year.

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