A full strength Manchester United drew against a poor Vålerenga IF on Sunday afternoon in sunny Oslo, in yet another dire performance on this year’s money laundering pre-season tour. Football romantics, and those of a nostalgic bent, will remember when a pre-season tour was actually a means of getting into shape before the coming season. Those days are long gone. Just ask United’s marketing department, which will surely be satisfied with a DHL-sponsored three-continents-in-a-few-weeks draining, but profitable tour.
United’s opponents – which hasn’t won Norway’s top division since 2005 – paid a reported £1 million to convinced the Glazers that the Reds should visit, and duly priced tickets at a whopping £90 (yes, a pound a minute). Yet the Ullevaal stadium was sold out, with almost 25,000 spectators in attendance - less than 20 from the home side’s own supporters club, Klanen, ‘the Clan.’
Vålerenga’s revenue from the game approximated 15 home matches in Norway’s Eliteserien – the ‘elite series’ – and sources claim the club’s entire budget this year depended on a sell-out crowd. That was nothing to worry about though. After all, Norway, being recession free, can afford the spectacle that comes with having United in town. Like paying legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel a rumoured £30,000 for being the main speaker at the Scandinavian supporters’ branch party at Rockefeller Music Hall on Saturday night. One could argue that was a fair pay day for Schmeichel to be his usual arrogant self and yell at kids who dared to ask for more than one autograph.
Yet, it’s nothing new that anglophile Norwegians enjoy spending their money on United – just ask anyone who’s ever been to the Bishop Blaze on Old Trafford matchdays.
All in, it was a great weekend with United in town though. The sun was shining, Norwegian girls were, as always, the world’s finest, and everyone bar paying customers – formerly known as “fans” – got a nice cut of the crazy money-spinning United tour. Like Spanish Bank Grupo Santander, provider of the ‘Manchester United credit card,’ which spat out credit cards at will from the company’s stand next to the Scandinavian supporters club in down-town Oslo on Saturday. Teased with exclusive opportunities to ‘get Old Trafford tickets,’ who can blame Norwegian fans for signing up as future debt slaves? Most fit Sir Alex Ferguson’s assessment of being real fans.
Having said that, the Manchester United’s Supporters Trust (MUST) has thousands of paying members from Norway, and the Scandinavian supporters branch did invite chief executive Duncan Drasdo to speak at their party Saturday night. Academy boss, and close Sir Alex Ferguson associate, Brian McClair was there too, and the pair seemed to get along well. What must the club’s employees really think of the current ownership?
Still, the match was alarming. Two weeks before United meet a hostile Everton at Goodison and the Reds can’t seem to score. The usual propaganda emerged: ‘this was a nice work-out, the fans were great, we’d like to give something back to our supporters in Norway,’ said assistant manager Mike Phelan post match. He didn’t fool anyone who actually paid attention on Sunday.
How is it that just a few weeks after the Euros, Wayne Rooney looks overweight and has seemingly lost his touch? Cynics might wonder whether his contract is up for renewal. Then there is Nani, who can’t seem to successfully dribble or pass round a few part-time professionals.
This is without asking why the club has failed to secure a left-back to ease the pressure on Patrice Evra. With Michael Keane politely described as ‘uncomfortable’ at left-back Sunday, Phil Jones sent home with a virus and Michael Carrick again deputising at centre-back after Nemanja Vidić was taken off in the second half, the question of whether United should acquire a defender is key. Bringing back John O’Shea? It’s tempting to ponder: “why the hell not?”
And many won’t believe that Sir Alex remained in Manchester to conclude a transfer deal or two – not for a second. More likely, the Scot was smooth-talking the prawn sandwich brigade into buying a slice of United’s much debated IPO.
As it stands, many will feel that this United side has no chance of beating a rejuvenated Chelsea or a confident Manchester City to the title, let alone Real Madrid and Barcelona in Europe. But so what? At least fans get the thrill of having a credit card with the club logo on, and the honour of paying Schmeichel to sing “who put the ball in the Germans net?”