SINGAPORE — They may insist that they are happy to be here, but both Liverpool and Crystal Palace admitted on Thursday (14 July) that making the long trip from England to Southeast Asia to train in high humidity is not exactly an ideal preparation for the upcoming English Premier League (EPL) season.
The two sides will play each other on Friday for the Standard Chartered Singapore Trophy in front of 50,000-odd fans at the National Stadium, and while they are appreciative of meeting their fans in Singapore, they are also finding ways to make the best out of an inconvenient pre-season situation.
"The best thing about it is that we come close to our 'family' of fans who live very far from where we are. We know how important it is to come, and we love doing it," said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp during a media conference at the National Stadium.
"From a training point of view, first and foremost I'm a coach, and it's not my favourite thing to do. I could have gone to (Liverpool's regular pre-season camp in) Austria and train twice a day, that would be better.
"But it is important to people here get to see us, not only on television, but live in person as well."
Indeed, such long-distance pre-season tours are seen as opportunities for both the EPL clubs and their numerous sponsors to reach out to their fans and customers, and hopefully build stronger relationships that would boost the football clubs' commercial potential.
For the players and coaches, however, it is a delicate juggling act whereby they have to devote time to making appearances for the fans, and then get into prime shape for the gruelling season ahead.
"We understand that sponsorship is an important part of professional football, but we are also here to prepare ourselves in the best way possible," said Palace captain Luka Milivojevic during his media conference.
"I know the trip is long, it is not ideal, but it is what it is and we try to make the best of this situation."
Four-year sponsorship extension with Standard Chartered Bank
As an indication of how crucial such pre-season overseas trips are to an EPL club's commercial pipeline, Liverpool announced on Thursday that they have signed a four-year extension with shirt sponsors Standard Chartered Bank.
This brings their long-time partnership to 17 years by the time the extension runs out at the end of the 2026/27 season.
"Our partnership has been able to thrive because of our shared values, and we look forward to continuing to work together to help and support our communities and supporters around the world,” said the Reds' chief executive officer Billy Hogan in a media release.
With more sponsors requesting fan meet-and-greet sessions with the players, Liverpool are now taking more former players to these pre-season trips. These "Liverpool legends" - the likes of Luis Garcia, Jose Enrique, Sami Hyypia and Vladimir Smicer for the Singapore trip - are only too happy to shield the players from the off-field demands.
While there are grumbles among some fans that they could not get up close and personal with current stars such as Mohamed Salah, Virgil van Dijk or exciting new signing Darwin Nunez, the fact that Liverpool have won major trophies in recent seasons - including their first top-division league title in 30 years - has given Klopp enough goodwill to protect his players from excessive commitments off the pitch.
Open training session to over 10,000 fans
Liverpool did open up their Thursday evening training session to over 10,000 fans at the National Stadium, as the supporters cheered loudly whenever top stars like Salah and Nunez appeared on the giant TV screens, or when someone managed to put the ball into the net.
Despite the humid conditions, the players were all smiles as they made a lap around the field thanking their fans, with vice-captain van Dijk saying at the mixed zone, "Obviously we were disappointed at the end of last season when we couldn't win the league and the Champions League final, but it's a new season, and it means new chances for us to improve. Everything starts from scratch."
For Klopp, he wants to improve himself too, in making sure that players who did not have their best performances last season get to fulfil their potential this season.
Responding to a question on whether he needs more new signings - particularly in central midfield - while getting rid of underperforming players, the German said, "Some football fans don't give players the chance to improve. Thank God I'm not like this.
"When a player didn't perform on his highest level, it is at least 50 per cent my fault. So I have to improve, I have to say the right things to help him in a better way.
"Why should we stop helping them after a year where we nearly won four trophies? If these boys want to stay, they will stay and we will work with them."
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