When Lothar Matthaus was winning titles with Bayern Munich a generation ago, weather would dictate where the team would train during the preseason and midseason break.
“In the summer, we’d stay in Germany,” he said. “We had the training sessions in the winter break somewhere in Spain, in Italy and sometimes in the Middle East. But never in North America or Asia.”
That’s no longer the case. To meet the ballooning payrolls soccer’s biggest teams need to be competitive, clubs now must spend part of their summer chasing sponsors, meeting fans and raising funds in distant markets — which explains why a German club will be playing an English one Wednesday night at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson.
The match between Bayern Munich, winner of the last seven German titles, and Arsenal, a Europa League finalist last season, is part of the seventh International Champions Cup, a nationwide series of 11 preseason friendlies featuring seven iconic European teams. And the schedule is arranged to give the teams maximum visibility in a minimal amount of time, one reason why the Bayern players began a lengthy round of media interviews at their Beverly Hills hotel Monday evening shortly after climbing off a 12-hour flight from Germany.
“It was a long trip,” forward Thomas Mueller said.
Asked if he would have preferred to spend the preseason in Munich rather than play a grueling stretch of three games in three states in seven days Mueller, Bayern’s vice-captain, smiled and shrugged.
“There was no option,” he said. “But I think the team is happy with it. It’s always exciting to come to the U.S. These ICC games in the preseason are always nice to play because you love to play against the big teams.
“You know the results in the preseason is not the main thing. But it’s nice to play against Arsenal or Milan or Real Madrid instead of maybe a team in the third [division] in Germany.”
Arsenal will be facing a similarly tough schedule, leaving Southern California on Thursday for games in Charlotte, N.C., and Washington over the next week. But as challenging as they are, the summer tours have become far too lucrative to pass up, with published reports saying clubs such as Bayern and Arsenal ask as much as $5 million in appearance fees per game.
ICC organizers have pushed back on those numbers but say company policy prevents them from talking about financial arrangements.
Teams also use the games as an opportunity to wine and dine both prospective and current sponsors, to sell merchandise and to meet fans. For Bayern, which claims 652 million followers worldwide, this is its second U.S. tour in four years; it spent the other two summers in China and Singapore. Arsenal, which claims a global fan base of 780 million fans, went to Asia and Australia on its last two preseason tours.
“This is not the first time,” said forward Robert Lewandowski, the Bundesliga scoring leader last season. “I see how many fans we have here and how they are happy; this also is fun for us.”
Bayern spent just a week in training before leaving Germany — and much of that time was spent on physicals and fitness work, meaning the soccer could be a little rough Wednesday. Arsenal has already played one game in the U.S., beating the Colorado Rapids of MLS 3-0 on Monday.
“After holidays you need a little bit of practice,” Mueller said. “To be sharp you need a few weeks. So the conditions are the same.”
Matthaus said the trips can be important in ways that go beyond the money and the soccer though. Bayern, for example, has brought newly arrived transfers Benjamin Pavard and Jann-Fiete Arp to the U.S. while Arsenal is traveling with teenage signee Gabriel Martinelli, who scored his first goal in the win over Colorado.
Taking those players away from their families and sequestering them with new teammates for a week and a half can accelerate the bonding process, Matthaus offered.
“This is part of the business,” he said. “2020 is different than 1980. It’s always good when you have relationships with the other players in the private time too.”