Europe's elite to test new managers
Preseason tournaments take various shapes. Some setups employ brackets, others rely upon round-robin structures and nearly all of them tie the teams to one city or one stadium for the duration of the tournament.
The Guinness International Champions Cup essentially combines all of those elements and throws a tour of several American cities into the mix. It is the best combination of all possibilities for the eight involved clubs, complete with a Tiffany & Co-designed trophy to the winner.
Only that sort of silverware – and the prospect of competitive friendlies and rigorous training sessions in top-flight facilities – could tempt seven European-based clubs to join LA Galaxy in this two-week tournament. Valencia hosts A.C. Milan to kick off the tournament on Saturday at the Mestalla (2:00p.m. ET, FOX Soccer) before the focus of the tournament shifts Stateside.
Both of those clubs will hop across the pond to join Chelsea, Everton, Inter Milan, Juventus, Real Madrid and the Galaxy for the rest of this uniquely comprised tournament. The remaining six teams will play one-off friendlies in Indianapolis (Chelsea – Inter on Aug. 1), Glendale, Ariz. (Galaxy – Madrid on Aug. 1) and San Francisco (Juventus – Everton on July 31) before slotting into future matches based upon the results in the opening fixtures. Doubleheaders at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles (Aug. 3) and MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. (Aug. 4) follow before two days of placement matches – including the championship – unfold at SunLife Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Aug. 6 and 7).
The entire process brings together a wealth of stars – including 27 players from the recent FIFA Confederations Cup and just about every familiar luminary from this compelling collection of teams – and provides an opportunity for each of these clubs to pursue their own objectives as they chase the title.
Five of these sides – Chelsea, Everton, Inter, Madrid and Valencia – will relish this opportunity to adapt to new managers. Miroslav Dukic (Valencia), Roberto Martinez (Everton) and Walter Mazzarri (Inter) will all be trying to find their footing with new outfits.
The spotlight will mainly focus on the new regimes at Chelsea and Madrid. Jose Mourinho left Madrid for a triumphant return to Stamford Bridge in the summer and paved the way for former Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti's arrival at the Bernabeu. Both men fit their new surroundings more neatly than their previous stations (Ancelotti excelled with Paris Saint-Germain, but his lineage warrants a more established place at the top table), although they must still find a way to adjust to their new surroundings.
Mourinho must somehow replicate his previous successes and revitalize a squad still anchored by iconic holdovers Frank Lampard and John Terry. The returning boss has suggested his veterans will receive no special treatment as the Europa League winners plot a return to the top of the Premier League. The prospect of adding Wayne Rooney to a summer haul including André Schürrle and Marco van Ginkel would provide further impetus to those efforts, but the former Champions League winners will focus on the players already at hand for this American excursion.
Ancelotti confronts a slightly different task as he adjusts to his new role in Madrid. Most of the potential transfer drama – especially with big money purchases Asier Illarramendi and Isco already in house, Gonzalo Higuain now at Napoli and Cristiano Ronaldo not going anywhere – has dissipated. The savvy former Italy international must now mold this group into a unit capable of dethroning Barcelona in La Liga and mounting a charge for a first Champions League triumph in over a decade.
Such lofty goals elude the interlopers from southern California. LA Galaxy remains firmly fixed on procuring a third consecutive MLS Cup, but this tournament offers the perfect opportunity for this group – including Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez and Robbie Keane – to test its mettle against some of the world's most prominent stars. That trio could inspire a shock or two with fitness decidedly on the side of the American champions.
Each of the remaining five teams carry their own concerns across the pond. Everton must adapt to Martinez's intricate style after years of more streamlined efforts under David Moyes. Inter must grapple with the realities of a mid-table finish last season and the dearth of high-profile reinforcements to aid Mazzarri's quest to rectify matters. Juventus needs to integrate Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez into a title-winning side and push further in the Champions League without widespread investment. Milan has to lean on the beleaguered and oft-criticized Max Allegri to wring the most out of a squad that fell short under his direction last season. And Valencia must once again wrestle with the potential loss of a key player (Roberto Soldado this time) to service the club's significant debts.
Those themes – plus several others – convey additional meaning to the events poised to unfold on these shores over the next fortnight or so. This tournament offers a perfect opportunity to address some of those issues and start the season on a proper footing. Only one team will end the tournament with the gleaming trophy, but every side could benefit from the decision to deviate from the norm if everything proceeds according to plan.