Early Doors

Pre-season ‘friendlies’ not so friendly any more, as McCarthy finds out

Early Doors

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James McCarthy gets tackled

Pre-season friendlies. They're nothing more than glorified training matches, right?

Try telling that to Everton's James McCarthy, who was lucky to escape with his legs intact in the Toffees' match against Celta Vigo on Thursday night.

Thankfully, McCarthy was okay - but that was surely only a matter of luck as the Ireland international could easily have sustained a serious injury.

It's not the first time this summer that players' conduct in pre-season friendlies has come into question. Earlier this week Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola was ferocious in his criticism of the physical approach taken by the MLS All Stars team in their game against the German champions, which they lost 2-1.

Guardiola, furious, refused to shake hands with opposition coach Caleb Porter, and though he tried to brush the incident off in his post-match interview (even pretending he hadn't seen Porter, despite having wagged his finger in Porter's direction) it was clear he was hugely angry.

Poter even apologised after the game.

"We certainly didn’t mean anything negative," Porter said. "Our players have nothing but the utmost respect for Bayern."

One of the tackles left Bayern star Bastian Schweinsteiger injured.

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Bastian Schweinsteiger lies injured during the MLS All Stars game

All-Stars striker Landon Donovan, who scored the winning goal, tried to play the incident down, saying "I understand [Guardiola] doesn’t want his players to get hurt.

"They’re not great tackles but they’re not the worst tackles I’ve ever seen and I hope Schweiny’s not hurt. I’m not sure why they’re going after the officials.”

Why would a professional footballer commit such a reckless and crazy foul in a meaningless match?

On the surface it's hard to fathom why any player would act so recklessly during a match.

But actually, the reason is fairly clear. Training matches used to be taken easy routinely, but in modern sport coaches have long espoused the "practice like you play" philosophy, on the basis that it's the only way to ensure you get a true competitive edge before a match.

Some take it too far, of course: take Jose Mourinho's crazy reaction to the refereeing, of all things, as the Blues lost a "meaningless friendly" last weekend.

"I learned nothing from this game. Our expectations are not fulfilled because when we decided to have this match here in Bremen we thought about an evolution in difficulty.

"We were expecting a fast game a competitive game but we come here and the referee thought this was a circus for Bremen fans - for them to have fun - and he killed the match.

"This game for us would have been perfect. I like the Werder Bremen team - they are fast, intense and they defend with a lot of people.

"The opponent is perfect for us to compete today but we couldn't play."

Insane, right?

Thankfully, there are still some for whom the word "friendly" still means what it says.

Take Fernando Torres, for example: his exquisite gentlemanliness in refusing to pop this ball into an open goal is as fine an example of good sportsmanship as you'll ever see.

Unless, of course, he simply missed while trying to score - but surely that couldn't be the case of a striker who cost £50 million, could it? Fernando? Fernando?

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