How players prepare for the next Manchester United match has changed dramatically over the years. Erik Ten Hag would be beside himself if his players behaved the way some of United’s players did in days gone by.
Everything is so much more clinical these days. Players and managers struggle to cope with the number of games being played. Sometimes, anyone would think they aren’t paid massive amounts to play for their club.
The jam-packed fixture list has been in existence for decades. Back in the 1970s, for example, players just seemed to get on with the job. If they were injured, it was a case of playing through the pain. There wasn’t all the medical technology that is available now.
Once one game was over, it was a quick look at the fixture list to see when the next match was being played. There wasn’t the thought of being subjected to a never-ending lecture about how the next opponents play.
With squad sizes not being as large as now, it was a case of looking at their latest results, who the most dangerous players would be and not much else.
Then it was a case of having a few training sessions, mainly just keeping the old body ticking over and having a bit of a laugh doing so.
Travelling to away games used to take a bit longer in the past. Players endured long coach journeys to away games but will have enjoyed playing cards for money. Only those who understood the poker hand rankings will have profited from teammates.
Plenty of Manchester United players probably managed to do just that. All those hours on a bus but little sign of any boring long-distance trips. They’re probably busy on their mobile phones nowadays.
Players didn’t wrap themselves up in cotton wool until the game was played. Footballers had social lives back in those days. They didn’t think twice about going to the pub for a few drinks.
More than that, if your name happened to be George Best. Several times he just skipped training and was to be found on a beach after another bust-up with the management. A few times, players even went out the night before a game. Erik would turn the air blue if that happened today.
Then there’s the thorny subject of smoking cigarettes. Tobacco sponsorship of sports was here, there and everywhere in the past. Therefore, being seen having a smoke wasn’t frowned upon as much as it is today.
Football, of course, was far more enjoyable those days. There was pressure to get results, but the money in the game was nowhere near the ridiculous amounts offered now. One foot out of place by a United player instantly hits the headlines, not just the back pages.
Wayne Rooney knows that all too well, and so does his wife. His preparation for games is nothing like that of a George Best or Dennis Law. Talking about how he prepares for a match, the former United striker spoke about getting some sleep in the afternoon and chatting to the kitman about what he’d be wearing for the next round. That’s another area of the game that has changed, with so many kits being created to make more sales.
Can you imagine George Best lying on his bed, wondering, ‘What will I do if the ball gets crossed in the box this way?’ He’d more likely have been thinking about, ‘Which club should I go to tonight and who I will come home with?’.
Then there’s the pre-match meal to consider. Diet is so much more important these days, and it’s not good news for any player who dares to be a pound or two overweight. Wayne Rooney used to tuck into some Coco Pops and a banana as a pre-match meal.
No sign of bacon sarnies then? When he turned up for the game, he had the chance to indulge in some energy gels and cereal bars rather than a juicy steak or fish and chips.