So I'm following all the pre-season scores that are coming in from these various little tournaments and exhibition games that the European clubs are playing. Well, you have to, don't you?
They're supposed to give us an idea about the upcoming season, to let us know who's going to be brilliant and who's going to be a washout.
I wonder. I have learned that Juventus, an average team last year, and a team that has spent little money in the off season, is now -- by virtue of its win over Real Madrid, better than the Spanish team, which has spent phenomenal amounts of cash as it attempts to revive the famous Galacticos days. That rather unreal result was eclipsed a day later when Juventus went and lost to Aston Villa. A result that would seem to make the English side noticeably better than Real Madrid.
And how many fans believe that? Not many, I should think. After Juventus had beaten Real Madrid, the Italian sports paper Gazzetta dello Sport immediately started talking about Juventus as a major power, one of the four best teams in Europe. It conducted a flash poll of its readers to see if they agreed, only to find that a whopping 73 per cent rejected the notion. But again, that seemingly conclusive vote is suspect - after all, Gazzetta is published in Milan, home of the two great rivals of the Turin-based Juventus
Nor can there be many fans who think that Chelsea will flop in the Premier League because it had to fight back from 2-0 down against second-tier Reading. Bayern Munich's win over Manchester United cannot be held to indicate any German superiority over Alex Ferguson's team. From the United side of that result comes exactly that comforting thought -- these are early days, the team, now without its astonishing superstar Cristiano Ronaldo -- is still shaking down, yet to find its true form. Well, yes. Up to a point. Because I don't see why such reasoning shouldn't also apply to Bayern Munich. And the reasoning always implies that the "true" form will be an improvement on whatever we've just seen.
These are, after all, "just" pre-season scorelines. Among the coaches, no one seems too excited or too worried by what's happening. This is particularly true of losing coaches, who are quick to point out that their players are not yet fully fit (I shall again point out that the same excuse must surely apply with equal force to the team that has just beaten them), and who go on to make the loss sound more like a victory because of the lessons that have been learned.
You could hear that angle clearly set out by Bruce Arena after his Galaxy had lost to Barcelona, 2-1. The loss was therapeutic, that was Arena's theme, because it showed his players the reality of the "speed of play" of Barcelona's players: "Any time you have the opportunity to play Barcelona, it has to be a positive experience."
No doubt. But just what does that experience do to make the Galaxy better? There are, after all, no teams in MLS that come close to playing the quick-thinking, slick-passing game that Barca practice.
All of Arena's players would have seen plenty of Barcelona on television before meeting them on the field. They must have known exactly what to expect, and they could hardly have been amazed to discover that they are not yet ready for that level of soccer.
I say "yet" - but this current Galaxy team will probably never be ready. It simply isn't good enough. It's not as though the Galaxy will be playing Barca again any time soon; its regular opposition fare for the rest of the season will be MLS clubs. Shall we suddenly see a new Galaxy, playing so much quicker, looking like Barca, sweeping all before it?
No, we shall not. The post-Barca Galaxy will look exactly like the pre-Barca Galaxy. As for Barca, what did they get out of the game? For them, this was a pre-season event, so young players were on view, and at no time during the game did the team on the field resemble the full team that Barca can be expected to field in La Liga.
I can now safely, and justifiably, use that word I was tempted to use right at the start. Unreal. (The unreality is exacerbated by the fact that three of the "upsets" mentioned above came via penalty kick shoot outs). These summer games not only tell us next to nothing about the upcoming season, they are quite likely to be downright misleading. But only within an increasingly restricted area. Take that Aston Villa win over Juventus. The Gazzetta readers are right, Juventus is not a top four club; but it has the potential and the history and the tradition and so on that tell you that it's going to return to that status. But Aston Villa? Does anyone envisage them becoming a world power any time soon?
In short, the pre-season results can say what they like, but we already know that the successful clubs will be the rich, big-spenders, and there's a only a select handful of them.
For the most down-to-earth, real comment on these unreal games, Barca coach Pep Guardiola's words after the Galaxy game carry conviction: "Nobody got injured and everybody got some playing time." And that's about it.