Football

Friendly fire ruins Premier League spectacle

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Spurs and Liverpool met in Baltimore. (©GettyImages)
Spurs and Liverpool met in Baltimore. (©GettyImages).

The previously alien thought of two leading Premier League sides meeting for an out-of-season encounter has now graduated into one of expectation during the summer months of preparation.

This year has, of course, been no different with English champions Manchester City defeating Arsenal in Beijing last week, and Liverpool contesting Tottenham in Baltimore on Saturday.

They are usually matches that offer little intrigue and fail to provide an accurate representation of a team's qualities given the absence of star names - see Robin van Persie - and managers using the opportunity to give younger squad members some experience.

City's comfortable victory over Arsenal in the Bird's Nest stadium gave hardly any insight into the current status of either side, with the Gunners in particular bereft of several regular starters.

Spurs against Liverpool, however, was able to conjure up an element of interest, albeit after a dour goalless draw given Charlie Adam's controversial tackle on Gareth Bale.

The Liverpool midfielder was seen to rake down on the ankle of Bale, who left the stadium on crutches, and the latter has since directed an uncharacteristic broadside at Adam.

Adam and Bale have a history of sorts with a challenge from the Scotland international during his time with Blackpool leaving his counterpart sidelined for a number of months.

Bale was quick to hark back to this moment and suggest Adam has now twice tried and succeeded to deliberately injure him, while the Liverpool man has been sure to keep silent on the issue.

It was an unexpected headline from an encounter that would have otherwise been washed away by the vast stream of Olympic news, but instead has enough legs to run for a while yet.

It is, however, somewhat of an anomaly that anything particularly newsworthy has emerged from a fixture that fails to inspire in the way it would during the regular season.

In 12 month's time, when the Premier League's elite are labouring their way through pre-season tours in foreign land, little thought will be given be the players and the fans to their off-season exploits the previous summer.

These are matches designed purely for marketing purposes, with club owners and league executives desperate to strengthen their brands in markets with a susceptible fan base.

Given the potential riches that come with an increased profile in Asia and America, the likelihood of pre-season matches between Premier League clubs being shelved would appear to be incredibly slim.

But this overkill is in danger of ruining the spectacle of the Premier League, with traditional rivalries now almost forgotten and played out in neutral surroundings.

The prospect of Manchester United and Liverpool meeting during pre-season in some distant outpost takes the edge off an historic rivalry and one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the regular season.

A perhaps more worrying and topical issue is that of individual rivalries bubbling to the surface in meaningless encounters, and in turn leaving more players on the treatment table before the season has even started.

Bale has accused Adam of attempting to 'do' him and the temptation for a player to hand out retribution to an opponent is surely far greater in a match of no importance and outside of regular jurisdiction.

The Football Association can impose sanctions for red cards collected in friendly fixtures, but the bans only apply to the same competition i.e. the Community Shield.

However, the FA retains the right to charge players in the most serious of misconduct cases and make sanctions applicable to competitive first-team fixtures if it is felt necessary.

There is, then, an element of protection for players who deem it just to hand out reprisals to the opposition by more subtle methods that are not judged serious enough for retrospective action.

If Bale's assertion is correct that Adam did indeed foul him with intent to injure, then the latter will be able to escape without justice when, perhaps, he would have been cited if the same incident had taken place in the Premier League.

Non-competitive games between prominent Premier League teams can never be friendlies, and casting them aside from now on may serve to prevent the competition's best players sustaining injury before the season begins.

But as long as a club's profile outside the confines of Europe remains of greater importance to the limbs of their players, the Premier League roadshow will continue to risk the welfare of the competition's most marketable assets.

Topics:
Tottenham Hotspur
Charlie Adam
Football
Premier League
Gareth Bale
Liverpool
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