Manchester United’s players head to the United States on Monday, with five matches in five cities over three weeks ahead before the squad returns at the end of July. In between Sir Alex Ferguson’s players will build fitness at Nike HQ and join sponsors in a rash of commercial events across the continent. As ever the search to ‘break America’ continues as football’s popularity grows in the land of Gridiron.
In part the tour is serious preparation; United will meet increasingly difficult opposition, while spending a week training Nike’s superb centre in Beaverton, Oregon. The campus will be familiar to Wayne Rooney at least, who spent a week away from prying eyes last November recuperating from injury, and escaping the tabloids as the fall-out from the player’s October Revolution and Hookergate continued.
Indeed, facilities right across the US are routinely praised by Ferguson; it’s a far cry from the days when the player’s return to United’s old training ground The Cliff overweight and the off-season meant two extra days drinking. The squad then toured Scandinavia before rounding off pre-season with a couple of random home friendlies against lower-league opposition.
No longer and Ferguson’s players will have been rigorously tested at Carrington this week for fitness levels and body fat, among a lengthy check-list of key indicators drawn up by the club’s backroom staff.
“I’ve got to say football has moved on from the point where you’re going on country runs. You can extract the same amount of fitness from short football sessions, particularly when they’re more football-related,” former United player Gary Neville told FourFourTwo.
“You find now that flogging players on long runs, those old days are gone. In terms of being a football player, it’s more suited and something that is better for the player. Times move on. I wish I was in the peak of my career but my time has gone. At the end of the day, I wish I was there in some ways but, with the current state of my body, I’m glad I’m not!”
Aside from fitness pre-season tours are increasingly used by Ferguson to assess the developer of the club’s younger players. Although none of last season’s FA Youth Cup winning side will join the tour this time round, plenty of fringe reserve players will. Danny Welbeck, returned from Sunderland and Tom Cleverley, who spent last season at Wigan Athletic, will both feature prominently in the US. It is also possible that Reserve Player of the Year Oliver Gill, Robbie Brady, and Oliver Norwood will also feature Stateside.
“The tour always provides some of the younger players with a chance to impress,” says Jonny Evans, who will himself want to impress after falling down the pecking order at Old Trafford.
“My brother Corry got the opportunity to go last year, as did a few of the other younger lads, and it gave them a lot of confidence for the new season. We all really enjoyed the tour last year and it’ll be good to go back again.”
Interest will also be high in United’s summer acquisitions, with Ashley Young joining the tour from the start. The £15 million winger will benefit from Antonio Valencia’s absence at Copa America and a chance to establish his presence in Ferguson’s first-team thinking. Young will also discover, perhaps for the first time, just how widespread United’s support has become in the US.
However, Ferguson’s other multi-million buys, Phil Jones and David de Gea, who each played in this summer’s Euro Under-21 tournament in Denmark, have been given an extra week off by Ferguson and may join the party in Oregon next Thursday. de Gea’s absence may offer Danish goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard an opportunity, with Tomasz Kuszczak likely to leave the club this summer.
Before United land at Nike World Campus Ferguson’s squad opens the tour with a fixture in the Boston suburbs against New England Revolution. The 68,000 capacity Gillette Stadium, located 25 miles from downtown Boston, is also home to the New England Patriots American football side in the winter.
Further fixtures against MLS sides Seattle Sounders and Chicago Fire follow as United cross-cross the country, racking up more than 8,000 air miles in the US alone. United end the tour first in New Jersey, facing the MLS All-Stars for a second summer in a row, before a reunion with Barcelona in Washington at the 91,000 capacity FedEx Field stadium, home to the Washington RedSkins.
Yet games are only a part of the tour, which is likely to generate around £5 million in revenues for the club. Sponsor-led events are planned in many of the squad’s stops, including Chicago: home of AON. The Glazer family will no doubt note, in the week that Manchester City ‘sold’ naming rights to Eastlands for hundreds of millions, that four of the five stadiums in which United play bare sponsors’ names.
Manchester United announced its provisional travel roster for their five-game tour of the United States, including their match against the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday, July 13.
A few players, including Mexican international Javier Hernandez, will join the club in the United States during the tour after their agreed leave time.
GOALKEEPERS: Ben Amos, David de Gea*, Sam Johnston, Anders Lindegaard
DEFENDERS: Fabio Da Silva, Rafael Da Silva, Jonny Evans, Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand, Phil Jones*, Chris Smalling*, Nemanja Vidic
MIDFIELDERS: Anderson, Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley*, Ryan Giggs, Nani, Gabriel Obertan, Ji-Sung Park
FORWARDS: Dimitar Berbatov, Mame Biram Diouf, Javier Hernandez*, Federico Macheda, Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck*, Ashley Young
* Player will join tour late
13 July: New England Revolution, Gillette Stadium, Boston, Massachusetts
20 July: Seattle Sounders, CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Washington
23 July: Chicago Fire, Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois
27 July: MLS All-Stars, Red Bull Arena, Hamilton, New Jersey
30 July: Barcelona, FedEx Field, Washington, DC