It’s that time of year again which rolls lazily around each June and July. Footballers squeeze their flip flops and tracksuits into a hastily packed suitcase, the kit men neatly fold pennants into an inside zipped compartment of their suitcases and any young red haired ballers make sure they’ve stocked up on sun cream in preparation for the eagerly anticipated pre-season tour.
Like most things though, this long-standing institution has metamorphasised into something bigger, wider and more important than its humble origins. Traditionally an opportunity to enjoy a bit of sun and down a few drinks before the graft and gruel of the pre-season training regime, it is now a televised, glad-handing, palm pressing exercise in establishing and widening the corporate brand of the football club to hitherto untapped international markets. These days, such affairs are micro-managed to within an inch of their existence with barely time for a footballer to even look at a bottle of beer, never mind procure one, down it on one and smash it on the head of the guy against whom he’s held a long time grudge. Some of these events are even beamed into our living rooms for our delectation.
Of course this type of thing (the violence thing, that is, not the TV thing) probably happens more often than we humble punters imagine. A pre season tour, what with the balmy sunshine and jagerbombs, merely precipitates the perfect conditions for grievances which have previously been festering to break free from their shackles and explode into a drunken orgy of hijinks or violence.
But one club in particular seems to have cornered the market in pre season japery gone too far. Britney Spears’ classic uptempo popalicious groove, ‘Oops I did it again’ seems an appropriate theme tune for a certain dressing room in the East Midlands since prior to the recent misdemeanours in Thailand, Leicester City managed a treble of sorts between 2000 and 2004 as they stumbled between La Manga and Finland to chalk up notoriety alongside a hefty bar bill.
Back in 2000 and with a League Cup final looming against Tranmere Rovers, Martin O’Neill decided that a trip to Spain was just the ticket in order to relax the players and offer some respite from the arduous grind that is the Premier League. Such a strategy worked well enough for Brian Clough and his frequent mid season excursions to Mallorca when his Nottingham Forest side was in their pomp. This one backfired badly though.
Alcohol, dancing and fire extinguishers seem to feature heavily in the ‘incident’ in the wee small hours of the morning. Tony Coles, La Manga managing director, told the Leicester Mercury that the players were, “dancing on tables and being a general nuisance. They were insulting and rude to people. They were asking ladies to dance that didn’t want to and being obnoxious.
“They were all fairly drunk by that stage. They had had a lot to drink. The team’s behaviour up to that point had been unacceptable.
“Around 40 people were covered in the stuff from the fire extinguisher. It was irresponsible. The guests left the bar as soon as they could possibly get out.”
Leicester City squeaked past Tranmere 2-1 a few weeks later to lift the League Cup. Not to be deterred though by such adverse publicity, team bonding must go on and so in preparation for the 2002-03 season, a pre season trip to Finland was organised – perhaps a more temperate climate might prevent a repeat of such La Manga scenes. However, such a calming environment failed to curb the ire of Dennis Wise who, according to The Guardian, ‘…Wise did not punch Davidson in a toe-to-toe brawl designed to settle a row following a game of cards but that he attacked the Scottish defender as he lay in bed in his hotel room.’ Apparently, ‘Davidson sustained a double fracture of his right cheekbone as a result of being punched by Wise and will miss the start of the new season as a result.’
The season went swimmingly as the Foxes reclaimed their place in the top division at the first time of asking, finishing in 2nd place behind Portsmouth.
A grim hat trick was completed in March 2004 as Leicester returned to La Manga, Spain. Allegations were made against various players and Paul Mace, the club’s chief operating officer was moved to make a statement: “This is not the first time that the football industry as a whole has found itself with disappointing coverage that does not portray our national game in the best possible light. This is not good for Leicester City Football Club, this is not good for the game.”
Indeed not, although it should be noted that Keith Gillespie accepted substantial undisclosed libel damages over the allegations. At the end of the season, Leicester City slipped out of the Premier League back down to the Championship.
Of course, the Foxes aren’t the only club to be involved in such scrapes. Famously, England warmed up for Euro 96 by heading to Hong Kong, culminating in the Dentist’s Chair and all that.
As planes laden down with expensive footballers taxi down the tarmac, bound for all manner of exotic destinations, there will no doubt be a few nervous press officers on board, desperately hoping that all they are required to comment on is transfer speculation.
Keanan Bennetts has perfect opportunity to impress Mauricio Pochettino this week
The left-sided star has a chance to impress in first-team training during the international break.
With the international week in full flow, plenty of teams in the Premier League have seen their squads diminished by call-ups to national teams.
Tottenham Hotspur are one such side. Nonetheless, with most of the first-team squad away with their respective nations, work continues at Hotspur Way.
In order for Spurs to have a full complement in training, plenty of young talent needs to be pulled in to the ranks.
Mauricio Pochettino will, therefore,e get a chance to see some of his young players training with regular first-team players such as Fernando Llorente, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura.
One player who will be training with the first-team this week is talented wide-man Keanan Bennetts, according to London Live.
The 19-year-old left-winger has been catching the eye for the club’s youth team in recent weeks, making the news after scoring a fantastic goal for the under-19s against Monaco in the UEFA Youth League last month.
Bennetts has also been attracting interest for his positional dexterity. The wide-man has played at left-back in recent times and it could be that is his future best position.
This week he will be up against some excellent players such as Lamela and Moura, who did not receive selection to the Argentina and Brazil national teams, respectively.
If he can prove himself with this calibre of player, Pochettino will have to take notice.
It is coming to a point in his Tottenham career when Bennetts has to make such an impact. The teenager is out of contract at Spurs in the summer and needs to ensure he is kept on for at least one more season.
Tottenham fans who follow the youth teams are certain he is deserving of such a chance. If he can show Pochettino what he is capable of this week, then a new deal will surely be in the pipeline for the talented wide-man.
Despite improvement, Everton should not rekindle Thomas Vermaelen interest
The Belgian defender has been in better form for Barcelona this season.
Rumours have emerged today suggesting Everton could be back in for Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen.
Catalan newspaper Sport has reported that the 32-year-old could be offered a new deal by Barcelona, with a team from the Premier League interested in signing him.
Sport Witness has openly hypothesised that Everton could be that team. Whilst there is no confirmation or substantiated report that is the case, the boot certainly fits.
Last summer Everton tried to sign Vermaelen.
As reported by the Liverpool Echo, at the time Barcelona vetoed a loan move to Everton as they felt the defender could be a useful asset.
The Belgian certainly has. After struggling with injuries and form throughout most of his Barcelona tenure the former Arsenal man has enjoyed a good season.
The 32-year-old has been a genuine asset to the Catalans, despite still being used sparingly, and such form has even seen him win back a place in Roberto Martinez’s national selection for Belgium.
If it is Everton interested in Vermaelen it is easy to see why. Centre-back has been a major problem for the club this season.
However, Vermaelen, or a player of his ilk, is not the answer to the Toffees’ woes.
The Belgian is obviously a talented player with plenty of experience, but Everton need to freshen up their back-line.
Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka’s age has shown in recent months.
The pair have been, at the best, inconsistent for the past 18 months and Everton need fresh young talent in the heart of defence if they are to succeed.
Vermaelen is not only 32 but also immensely injury prone. Everton need reliable figures to plug their leaky defences and the Belgian can simply not be relied upon.
Whilst on paper it seems a good deal, and one Everton could certainly turn to their benefit.
The truth is supporters of the Goodison Park outfit will hope they are not the club reportedly keen on bringing Vermaelen back to the Premier League.
Have West Ham United found the next Mark Noble in Alfie Lewis?
The 18-year-old put in a fine performance against Dagenham and Redbridge this week.
West Ham United took on Dagenham and Redbridge in a friendly yesterday, in a match to raise funds for the National League side.
It was no surprise to see West Ham come out victorious. They won 3-1, with Michail Antonio at the double and Jordan Hugill scoring his first goal for the club.
It was, however, a Hammers team depleted by international selection.
With that in mind, David Moyes’ side fielded some of their younger players. Plenty of them caught the eye, but none more so than central midfielder Alfie Lewis.
The 18-year-old put in a fine display for 90 minutes which left West Ham fans very excited on social media.
It was an even more special achievement given Lewis spent most of last year on the sidelines with a serious knee injury.
Lewis himself told the official West Ham website after the game: “I’m delighted.
“It was a good experience for me tonight, to play with the likes of Patrice Evra, and Mark Noble in midfield. It was a good challenge and a good test for us as well, and I think I did well.”
He spoke of it being an honour playing alongside Mark Noble, but is he the successor to the throne?
Whilst Noble has had his critics in recent times there is no doubt he has been a long-term hero at West Ham.
Fans of the club have often wondered why Noble has never received England recognition given his consistent form in the Premier League.
Noble has gone on to play over 400 games for West Ham since his debut for the club back in 2004.
Lewis certainly has the ability to follow in his footsteps. An energetic midfield creator, West Ham look to have another midfield gem in their ranks and one that can hopefully progress into the first-team soon.
The Hammers have a fine record of bringing through young players.
Noble is one current example and Lewis could not be at a better club if he is to find his way into the West Ham first-team.
This season, with a relegation battle raging, might come a little too soon for the teenager.
Nonetheless, in 2018-19 it will not be a surprise if Lewis finds himself playing alongside Noble in the West Ham midfield once again.
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