Tag Pre-Season

Tag Pre-Season

Reasons to be cheerful

August 8, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 18 comments

Though last season’s climax will linger odiously in the minds of Manchester United fans, the summer which has followed is one easily forgotten. On the pitch, the absence of key players, due to international commitments at both the European Championships and Olympics, has seen United’s depleted squad score just three goals in five games against markedly inferior opposition, save for Barcelona.

Meanwhile, away from it, only moderate activity in the transfer window has left a midfield bereft of variety and depth, seemingly unimproved. Even speculation concerning the potential acquisition of Robin van Persie, the Premier League’s top scorer last term, has polarised opinion; such is the Dutchman’s inability to mask the team’s most deep-rooted deficiencies.

Arguably the most engrossing stories to emerge from Old Trafford relate to the Glazer family’s much maligned attempt to float part of the club on the New York Stock Exchange, while still pocketing more of the proceeds than will be devoted to reducing United’s insidious debt. Yet, despite the club’s recent anguish, and its future shrouded in doubt, there still remains scope for optimism.

This optimism begins with hope for desperately needed reform. The detrimental nature of the Glazers’ ownership was already well known, but renewed outrage in the face of their Initial Public Offering (IPO) in New York has reinvigorated opposition at a time when the family are looking more vulnerable than ever.

The family’s US-based businesses continue to haemorrhage money, while rumours of a rift within the family persist; the Sunday Times reported this week that of the six children to whom Malcolm has gifted control of United, three “want to sell their shares to concentrate on other ventures.” Even if tales of a family dispute prove untrue, the Glazers are still faced with the dilemma of somehow generating the capital necessary to prop up their failing businesses elsewhere.

Thus it appears the success of the proposed IPO, expected to be launched later this week, is fundamental to the Glazers’ continued ownership of United. Should it fail to deliver the cash injection hoped for, the Americans may well be forced to consider selling the club, or at least settle for relinquishing a much larger share of control.

And if the reports disseminated by a number of renowned forecasters are to be trusted, it is hardly inconceivable that the IPO will fail; the Financial Times damningly opined that the Glazers believe “investors are so credulous that they will hand over their money without being offered a financially persuasive argument or even the pretence of good corporate governance practice,” while analyst house Morningstar has valued potential shares at between $6 and $10 less than the amount targeted.

Though it is true that news ‘leaked’ from inside the club contradicts this position, anybody familiar with United’s increasingly lacklustre attempts to sell season tickets will rightly be sceptical when the world is told that the IPO is already oversubscribed.

The potential difficulty the Glazers face has not been lost on United fans, with the all-espousing Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) avidly vocalising its plans to test the family’s resolve. Having developed a reputation for being somewhat passive in its previous attempts to force the Glazers from Old Trafford, the group headed by Duncan Drasdo stepped up its efforts this week, as it facilitated the dispatch of over one million emails to potential backers of the IPO and club sponsors.

More significantly, MUST released a statement on Tuesday calling for the worldwide boycott of all products and services of those same sponsors. Though such an appeal is highly ambitious, with results unlikely to materialise, it is a step in the right direction; the only way United fans can gain leverage over the Glazers is to hurt the family’s revenue streams until they are forced to sell. This is a goal ordinary fans can only achieve collectively, through mass boycott.

Aided by Blue State Digital, the marketing firm used by Barrack Obama during his first electoral campaign, MUST now provides a figurehead more widely received than the fanzines and online forums that were previously alone in calling for belligerent action. If MUST’s growing global presence proves enough to intimidate the Glazers’ financial advocates and allies even slightly, it may be enough to stifle the IPO, forcing the hand of the Americans.

The infamous figure of 659 million supporters, touted at every possible opportunity in the build-up to floatation, is so significant because it is through these supporters that the club stands to generate revenue.

Should a scenario arise where the Glazers are not able to sell on their own terms, particularly if the catalyst for such a scenario was supporter action against the family, it is unimaginable that new investors would not seek to rebuild the broken relationship between the club’s fans and its owners. A model of the club whereby fan ownership is a realistic possibility may once again emerge.

Curb your enthusiasm

August 7, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 26 comments

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?”

Reds (almost) re-United in pre-season action as speculation mounts

August 5, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 55 comments

Manchester United’s Euro 2012 contingent finally returned to action on Sunday as the Reds drew with Norwegian side Vålerenga in Oslo. With just two weeks before the big Premier League kick off, Sir Alex Ferguson’s players were reunited as an almost complete squad for the first time this summer after injury and international commitments disrupted United’s preparations for the new season. Except, of course, the 70-year-old manager, who wasn’t there, with rumours abounding that Ferguson remained in Manchester to conclude summer transfer business.

Despite Ferguson’s absence on unspecified “club business,” Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, and Ashley Young played some part against the the Bohemians, as United began the European leg of an extensive summer programme. Meanwhile, with just three matches remaining in the Reds’ pre-season, long-term injury victim Nemanja Vidić joined the party as the Serbian works towards full fitness before the season’s opener against Everton on 20 August.

While Patrice Evra returned to Manchester on Sunday, with his wife due to give birth this weekend, Ferguson will be pleased to have something like his first choice XI back together after a fragmented, globe-trotting, pre-season.

Still, there was little fluency from United on the pitch against a team that finished seventh in Tippeligaen last season, and currently lies just a place better in the current campaign. Much as in matches against AmaZulu, Cape Town Ajax, and Shanghai Shenhua on tour this summer, United struggled to convert territorial dominance into goals; surely a concern for Ferguson ahead of the new season.

Three goals in four games will set no alarm bells ringing at Old Trafford just yet, but it’s a habit that Ferguson cannot tolerate once the real action gets underway later this month.

Indeed, striker Welbeck missed a host of chances in the Norwegian capital, while Vålerenga goalkeeper Gudmund Kongshavn impressed with three outstanding saves to deny United a third win on tour this summer. Mexican Javier Hernández was less culpable, but did little to improve on a muted pre-season in a 15 minute substitute appearance.

But goals or not there were positives for stand-in manager Phelan, with Vidić paired at the back alongside Rio Ferdinand, Michael Keane – deputising in an unfamiliar role at left-back – performing encouragingly, and substitute Shinji Kagawa bright once again.

Vidić’s return, in particular, is vital with Chris Smalling out for weeks after suffering a broken metatarsal in pre-season training, and Jonny Evans still recovering after foot surgery forced the Northern Irishman out of United’s tour of South Africa and China. Reporting no reaction after eight months on the sidelines, Vidić told MUTV that his knee felt fine.

“After eight months without a game it’s obvious that you have to get used to your positioning, and still fitness-wise it’s not as hopefully it will be in a few weeks, but I’m pleased,” said Vidić.

“It was frustrating, but obviously I knew I would be out for six months. I tried to make the best of it, to work hard and when I come back to be the same as I was before the injury. It’s hard, but it’s part of the football career. Any sportsman has the risk of injuries and hopefully this is the past and better days are coming for me.”

Back in Manchester it’s not yet clear whether Ferguson was involved in the widely rumoured bid for the Brazilian youngster Lucas Moura, or on other club business. There is, after all, a New York IPO to flog.

The Scot’s media mouthpiece Bob Cass claimed on Sunday that a £30 million United bid had been accepted by Moura’s club São Paulo, and a medical had been arranged in Manchester for Sunday. Claims that were trashed by both the Brazilian football association and local media inside the day to leave Cass, not for the first time, short of credibility.

“Lucas has not been sold by São Paulo,” claimed ESPN’s Brazilian commentator Paulo Vinicius Coelho. “The thought is that it will be difficult for the British club to reach the amount required by São Paulo: €45 million.

“Lucas is more willing to go to England than he was three months ago, but nothing is decided. Manchester United must reach the fee desired by São Paulo, or someone will have to convince [São Paulo club] president Juvenal Juvencio to close the deal for less.”

United supporters of a world-weary nature may reserve judgement until the player is pictured at Carrington next to a beaming chief executive, David Gill. After all, when it comes to smokescreens, United has a long record of bluff and counter-bluff.

Further discrediting the Mail, the Brazilian Football Federation said Lucas will not be allowed to take part in any medical during the tournament.

“The Board of the Seleção Brasileira has not received any request from the English club,” said a CBF statement on Sunday. “If we receive one, we will not allow a player to leave the camp to do it.”

Further backtracking on Sunday, the Mail then claimed Ferguson had in fact not stayed in Manchester to oversee Moura’s transfer, but that of Arsenal’s Robin van Persie. Take that one with a very large pinch of salt.

On the pitch United next face Barcelona in Gothenburg on Wednesday – the second pre-season in succession that the teams have met. While the Reds walked away with a 2-1 victory last summer, no pre-season win will ever make up for the thumpings the Catalan side handed United in two Champions League finals.

Still, Ferguson, Phelan or whomever is in charge on Wednesday, will look again both for an improvement in performance, fitness and – hopefully – a few goals. But whatever the result, it’s unlikely we’ll have a conclusion to this summer’s tiresome transfer speculation.

United 0-0 Vålerenga, Ullevaal Stadion, Oslo

Lindegaard; Valencia, Vidić (Anderson 61), Ferdinand, M Keane; Nani, Carrick, Scholes (Powell 75), Young (Lingard 75); Rooney (Hernández 76), Welbeck (Kagawa 61). Subs not used: De Gea, Jones, Berbatov, Macheda.

Revised tour squad to play Barcelona in Gothenburg, and Hannover 96, in Hannover

De Gea, Lindegaard; Evra, Ferdinand, Jones, M Keane, Vidić; Anderson, Carrick, Nani, Powell, Lingard, Scholes, Valencia, Young, Kagawa; Berbatov, Hernández, Macheda, Rooney, Welbeck

Shang-hi and bye

July 24, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 13 comments

Manchester United arrived in China this week on the back of two underwhelming performances against Ajax Cape Town and AmaZulu in South Africa, but a rip-roaring success off the field where column inches were garnered, back-to-back commercial engagements fulfilled and fitness gained. Goodbye Africa, hello Asia as leg two of United’s world tour gets underway. To Shanghai, a whistle-stop tour of the world’s most populous city, and a meeting with sometime nemesis, Didier Drogba, on Wednesday night.

United flew 8057 miles from Cape Town to Shanghai at the weekend, and the squad has just four days in China before it takes another marathon trip back to Europe on Thursday. But with just four more fixtures to be completed before the big Premier League kick off against Everton on 20 August, this is where the tour should get a little more serious.

The Reds take to the huge Shanghai Stadium on Wednesday, where Sir Alex Ferguson’s side will seek to improve on two understandably rusty performances against mediocre opposition in Africa. And while fitness levels will be of more concern to the Scot, the players will have one eye on Goodison Park in just under four weeks time.

Yet, with so many first team players taking an addition break, are injured or away with Olympic Games squads, United was far from impressive against – on league form at least – the seventh and ninth best sides in the South African Premier League. Just two goals and the narrow avoidance of defeat against Ajax Cape Town smacks of a squad not only without some star names, but still finding a collective ethos.

“That [the lack of goals] is not the most important thing,” Ferguson told MUTV, as United held its first training session in China.

“We want to keep our heads held high in terms of our performance level and making sure we get a result. But at the end of the day when we get to that last pre-season game in Hanover we want to be confident the team is ready for the first game of the season.

“They [Shenhua] will be very committed, very enthusiastic, quite aggressive and athletic. We’ll have to deal with that. We don’t know if Drogba will be playing or not but you look at him and you have to say he’s a handful. We’ve played against him many times and you can never take your eye off him. We’ll have to deal with that.”

Whether Drogba, and fellow Premier League exile Nicolas Anelka, play or not there are more than a few United squad members seeking an opportunity in the far east. While some senior pros such as Javier Hernández will be desperate to build on a slow start to the tour, others including Anderson, Dimitar Berbatov and Anders Lindegaard are keen to force their way into Ferguson’s thinking.

So too will new signings Nick Powell, who has already impressed many of United’s senior pros on tour, and Shinji Kagawa, who was bright on his full, albeit non-competitive, debut for the club against Ajax Cape Town.

“I’ve been very, very impressed,” added United captain-for-the-tour Rio Ferdinand of his new Japanese colleague.

“I’d seen him play for Dortmund on TV and I looked on YouTube. He’s been fantastic. He’s quick, he’s sharp, he has great awareness, he plays off both feet. I’m excited about playing with him and getting the season started.

“He’s been one of the better players in Germany for the last few years. I think he will bring that form to Manchester United. I think he’ll be a great acquisition.”

The tour will be judged a greater success still if some of the many youngsters in the party benefit from the experience. While Powell, at just 18, will spend a season bedding into the club, others have genuine pretensions of making Ferguson’s first team squad in the coming year.

Defender Scott Wooten, who spent the season on loan with Peterborough United last year, has drawn praise from Ferdinand for his composed performances on tour. Meanwhile, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Jesse Lingard, back Tyler Blackett, and Marnick Vermijl have all grabbed chances to impress in South Africa.

Meanwhile, Italian Davide Petrucci, for whom many have high hopes at Old Trafford, made his first team bow in Africa after some frustrating years of injury enforced regression. Now signed up for another three years with the club, Petrucci could start his first game for Ferguson’s senior team against Shenhua in China. The youngster came close to scoring after smashing an effort against the bar in United’s fixture with AmaZulu last week.

“I’m really pleased for Davide,” striker Federico Macheda said of his fellow countryman.

“He’s had a tough time at United with injuries but he did great for the Reserves last season. He deserves to be on tour and was unlucky not to score the other night. I’ve just told him to stay calm and not to put too much pressure on himself, but to enjoy the tour and do his best and just play his game. He is a great player and it’s great to see him playing for the first team. I hope he’ll do very well in the future.”

And so to Shenhua, with the Chinese outfit set to test Drogba’s injured back shortly before Sergio Batista names his starting XI for Wednesday’s game. The Shanghai side may now boast some high-profile signings, but finished just 11th in the Chinese Super League last season under the part-time direction of former Chelsea striker Anelka.

Aside from the west London alumni, Shenhua boasts Brazilian defender Moisés, Australian Joel Griffiths and captain Yu Tao among Batista’s predominantly Chinese squad.

It should be a roaring atmosphere in the 80,000-capacity Shanghai Stadium too. Built for the 8th National Games of the People’s Republic of China in 1997, Shanghai Stadium will act as a temporary home for the game, with Shenhua’s 35,000-capacity Hongkou Stadium deemed too small.

And while the local focus has been on Kagawa this week, the 23-year-old is just one of many desperate to impress on a quick-fire tour of the far east.

Football, at last

July 17, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 76 comments

‘At last,’ sang the late, great Etta James, ‘my lonely days are over.’ And while Manchester United supporters may not be pining for a love a long gone, the wait for the Reds to return this summer hardly sped by. Two months and five days of waiting, to be precise, since United lost the Premier League title to neighbours City in May. Sixty six days, for the fastidious, or 1584 hours, 95,040 minutes, or 5,702,400 seconds long. Either way, United’s players and supporters will be grateful when the Reds face AmaZulu FC in Durban this week.

Manchester United may have taken a scratch party on tour this summer, with so many regular faces resting, involved in the Olympics or injured, but a Sir Alex Ferguson side of sorts will take to the field on Wednesday night. Locals, and United’s regular support back in England, have waited through a summer of international football for this.

An the passion for all things United has been loudly voiced in South Africa over the 48 hours since Ferguson’s outfit landed in the country, with the sold-out Moses Mabhida Stadium awaiting what will be a highly unfamiliar United side.

Indeed, Ferguson has left more than a dozen players back in England, working the rigours of Euro 2012 out of their bodies, away with international associations, or still recovering from injury. Still, Ferguson hopes that the tour will add more than to the club’s bottom-line this summer, with his front line players gaining fitness, including new signing Shinji Kagawa, and a smattering of youngsters acquiring much-needed experience.

“The priority is to get the experienced players fit but young players will play in each game,” said Ferguson from United’s base in Durban.

“It’s likely that Kagawa will start with Chicharito. Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes will play. So too Anders Lindegaard, Lingard and Brady at left-back. Antonio Valencia will play.”

The Scot’s defence, in particular, will sport a highly unusual composition through six matches, across five countries, and three continents over the next month or so. Youngster Robbie Brady, for example, will start at left-back against AmaZulu – a position he has very rarely played through youth football. Meanwhile, 17-year-old left-back Tyler Blackett, one of the stars of last season’s Academy side, may also get a run out during the tour.

“Young Robbie Brady will be at left-back,” Ferguson added.

“He’s actually an outside-left but we believe there’s the possibility he’ll develop into a left-back. He was on loan last year at Hull City and did very well. Left-back is an area which we’re paying attention to. Patrice, in the last five years has played an average of 45-50 games. It’s phenomenal. I don’t know if anybody else has achieved that.

“Fabio went to QPR, which was so important for the boy because he has enormous ability, but he needs to play. Because Evra, touch wood, is never injured, the opportunities haven’t been there for the boy.

“That’s why we’re trying Robbie Brady at left-back. We also have Tyler Blackett here – he’s a big, strong boy, tall and quick going forward. But he’s only just turned 18. He has time on his side but he’s here for the experience and he may yet surprise us.”

Even with an unusual United side AmaZulu should offer the kind of  ‘soft’ start to pre-season rusty legs will welcome. Founded in 1932, as Zulu Royals, AmaZulu FC finished seventh in the South African Premiership last season – the club’s best finish in 15 years. It is a squad with few recognisable stars, although captain Tapuwa Kapini is a Zimbabwe international goalkeeper, while the side also boasts South African international Stanton Lewis, Malawi star Moses Chavula and Namibian Tangeni Shipahu.

“We expect a difficult game,” Sir Alex said ahead of the match, which takes place on Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday.

“AmaZulu will be well motivated to play us on such a special day. The first thing we always try to do with the pre-season tour is to get everyone fit and try to avoid injuries. The priority is to get the players match-fit. That gives us a platform to say that, come the first day of the season, we are ready.”

“I don’t know how many substitutes will be allowed – we need to establish that – but I’m sure we can be flexible. It’s important the young players get a chance to play on such a big occasion.”

Meanwhile, defenders Jonny Evans, Nemanja Vidić and Chris Smalling continue to work on individual fitness programmes back at Carrington. With Rafael da Silva away at the Olympics until – at worst – 11 August – and his brother Fabio loaned out, Ferguson is likely to need at least one of the injured trio fit come the big kick-off on 20 August.

“Jonny Evans has had an operation,” explained Ferguson.

“I’m not sure he’ll start the season but he won’t be far away. Vidic will start the season. I am sure of that. He’s doing good amounts of training but not in the competitive sense in the way the lads out here have done. It was pointless bringing him with us. He’s back at Carrington with the facilities and the physios so he can get to the next level. By the time we come back, we hope he’ll be at the competitive stage of his comeback.

“Chris Smalling has actually done a bit of training. But the ruptured groin muscle he suffered needed a lot of attention. He’s making progress and we expect him to start the season.”

For now, however, the prospect of a United side in action – no matter the make-up – will have supporters glued to the television on Wednesday night, especially with summer acquisitions Kagawa and Nick Powell likely to feature in Ferguson’s side.

Meanwhile, for the locals, the chance to take on the world’s biggest club in front of more than 50,000 fans, even if AmaZulu remain rank outsiders to cause an upset.

“We’ll be playing against a big team with great players but we’ll have the same number of players on the field and if we all remain focused we can be able to match them,” said AmaZulu striker Sifiso Vilakazi.

It’s unlikely; the last time United visited South Africa the Reds beat Kaizer Chiefs 4-0, and few expect anything other than a similar result in Durban.

AmaZulu FC versus Manchester United
Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban
Kick off: 7pm (BST)

United from: Lindegaard, Amos, Johnstone, Ferdinand, Veseli, Vermijl, Wootton, Blackett, Valencia, Anderson, Carrick, Scholes, Powell, Kagawa, Bébé, Tunnicliffe, Lingard, Brady, Petrucci, Berbatov, Chicharito, Macheda

Pre-season: a bluffer’s guide

July 16, 2012 Tags: Opinion 16 comments

Six games, five countries, 22,000 miles – Manchester United’s summer tour 2012 will be another money-spinning, publicity-building, sojourn for the Glazer family; whether so much time spent travelling is the right preparation for the team is another question. In either case, Ferguson’s men set sail for Durban on Monday morning, with match sharpness, open training and local press events initially on the agenda.

While the Reds’ tours of the past two summers have taken to the United States, this time Sir Alex Ferguson’s outfit will globe-trot for nearly a month – from South Africa to Germany, with stops in China and Scandinavia in between – before the opening game of the new Premier League season takes place on 18 August.

Ferguson’s side will take on some exotic opponent’s along the way, even if the overall quality is unlikely to reach the exceptional until the Reds meet Barcelona in Gothenburg in early August.

And whether you are familiar with AmaZulu’s best player, Shanghai Shenhua’s home stadium or Valerenga’s history, fear not – here’s Rant’s bluffer’s guide to the next month of summer action…

 

Durban – Wednesday 18 July – AmaZulu FC, Moses Mabhida Stadium

AmaZulu F.C.The Opposition: Founded in 1932, as Zulu Royals, AmaZulu FC finished seventh in the South African Premiership last season. It was the club’s best finish in 15 years. Captained by Zimbabwe international goalkeeper Tapuwa Kapini, AmaZulu can also boast South African international Stanton Lewis, Malawi star Moses Chavula and Namibian Tangeni Shipahu among the squad. Alumni include for VfB Stuttgart and Liverpool striker, Sean Dundee. Nicknamed Amaqhawe – heroes – AmaZulu should prove a gentle opening tour game for United’s multi-millionaires.

The Manager: Roger Palmgren has made a career coaching in Africa, including a short stint in charge of the Sierra Leone national side, two years with Rwanda, and club jobs at Kwara United and Thanda Royal Zulu. Football Coach World Ranking places Palmgren a lofty 574th on its weekly chart.

Moses Mabhida Durban StadiumThe Stadium: The iconic Moses Mabhida Stadium was built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, boasting a capacity of 62,760 for the tournament, reduced to 54,000 for club matches. The 350-metre long, 105-metre span arch, inspired by the South African Flag, holds the stadium roof 106 metres above the pitch, representing we are told, a once divided nation coming together. The stadium hosted five group games, one second round game and a semi-final match during the World Cup, although bizarre FIFA protocols ensure that it was called, simply, “Durban Stadium” during the tournament.

The City: Durban is the largest city in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal and the third largest city in South Africa. The port city is heavily influence by international trade, although in more recent times has become a major tourist centres because of the city’s warm subtropical climate and extensive beaches. The modern city of Durban dates to 1824, when a party of 25 men under British Lieutenant F. G. Farewell arrived from the Cape Colony and established a settlement on the northern shore of the Bay of Natal.

 

Cape Town – Saturday 21 July – Ajax Cape Town, Cape Town Stadium

Ajax Cape TownThe Opposition: Ajax Cape Town, somewhat unsurprisingly, is majority-owned by the club’s more famous Dutch namesake. ACT was formed in 1999 from the amalgamation of two Cape Town-based teams, Seven Stars and Cape Town Spurs, as Ajax expanded its worldwide network to South Africa. ACT finished ninth in the South African Premier League last season under Dutch coach Maarten Stekelenburg, while the club’s only success to date was in the Rothmans Cup in 2000. The experiment has been a mixed success though, with Steven Pienaar the only player to have graduated to ‘big’ Ajax in the club’s short history.

The Manager:  39-year-old  Dutchman Stekelenburg took over at ACT in June 2011, having previously worked as head of youth development for the club, and at AFC Ajax’s youth academy back in Holland. Ranked 568 on Football Coach World Ranking, Stekelenburg is no relation to the Dutch national team goalkeeper.

Cape Town StadiumThe Stadium: There was no more stunning visual during the 2010 World Cup than the Cape Town Stadium at Green Point. Set just yards from the ocean, with Table Mountain as the backdrop, the BBC spent more than £2 million to base its team at the stadium two years ago. Built for the World Cup at a cost of more than £400 million, with a capacity of  64,000 – reduced to 55,000 post-tournament – Cape Town Stadium is now host to ACT, together with the occasional pop concert or South Africa international.

The City: Cape Town is the second largest city in South Africa, the provincial capital of the Western Cape, and the legislative capital of the country hosting the National Parliament. Cape Town, located in the strategic port of Table Bay, was developed by the Dutch East India Company as a supply depot for Dutch ships sailing to India and the Far East. It was first established as a European settlement in April 1652.

 

Shanghai – Wednesday 25 July – Shanghai Shenhua, Shanghai Stadium

Shenhua FCThe Opposition: Shenhua may now boast Didier Drogba as a high-profile signing, but the side finished 11th in the Chinese Super League last season under the part-time direction of former Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka. Aside from the west London alumni, Shenhua boasts Brazilian defender Moisés, Australian Joel Griffiths and captain Yu Tao among Sergio Batista’s predominantly Chinese squad.

The Manager: Batista, the former Argentina coach, played for the national team 39 times between 1985 and 1990, including winning the 1986 World Cup and picking up a runners-up medal in the 1990 final. As a manager Batista has coached Argentinos Juniors, Nueva Chicago and the Argentina Under-20 side, before taking over La Albiceleste after the last World Cup. He was appointed Shenhua manager this summer.

Shanghai StadiumThe Stadium: The fixture will not take place at Shenhua’s usual 35,000-capacity Hongkou Football Stadium, but at the huge Shanghai Stadium. The stadium, which holds 80,000, was built in 1997 for the 8th National Games of the People’s Republic of China and is the third largest stadium in China after the Guangdong Olympic and the Beijing National Stadiums. The arena hosted football during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

The City: Shanghai is the largest city in the People’s Republic of China, and the largest city by population on the planet with 23 million inhabitants. There are rumours, as yet unconfirmed, that Wayne Rooney has not – repeat, has not – shagged every hooker in the city. Shanghai sits at the mouth of the Yangtze River, bounded to the east by the East China Sea and has been a trading post for centuries. Shanghai grew in the 19th century as Europeans arrived to trade, while the city became popular with the British after victory over China in the first opium war in 1842. Shanghai is a popular tourist destination with historical landmarks including The Bund, City God Temple and Yuyuan Garden.

 

Oslo – Sunday 5 August – Valerenga, Ullevaal Stadium

ValerengaThe Opposition: Vålerenga Fotball is the fifth most successful clubs in the history of Norwegian football, having won the Premier League five times and the Cup on four occasions. However, the club, which celebrates its century next summer, finished seventh behind Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Molde in the Tippeligaen last season. The Bohemians last championship victory came in 2005, pipping Rosenborg to the title.

The Manager: Martin Andresen is young for a manager, even by Norwegian standards ,at just 35. Indeed, the former Norwegian international was appointed Vålerenga player-manager four years ago after signing, ostensibly as a player, from Brann. Andresen is yet to secure silverware, although led his team to Tippeligaen runners-up spot in 2010 and the Superfinalen the year previously.

Ullevaal StadionThe Stadium: Opened in 1926, Ullevaal Stadion is home to Vålerenga, the Norway national football team, and the Norwegian Cup Final. Seating 25,572, Ullevaal hosted FC Lyn Oslo – the club of John Obi Mikel fame – before the club’s bankruptcy, while it was also home to the UEFA Women’s Euro Final in 1987 and 1997. There are plans to increase the stadium capacity to more than 30,000, while fitting a retractable roof and artificial pitch.

The City: Founded in 1048 by King Harald III, Oslo is the capital of and largest city in Norway. Oslo is one of the most wealthy cities in Europe, hosting almost 2,000 maritime companies, together with around 10,000 workers in the sector. It is also  one of the most expensive in the world, with traveling United supporters likely to suffer from astronomically high beer prices, although housing remains reasonable by European standards.

 

Gothenburg – Wednesday 8 August – Barcelona, Ullevi Stadium

FC BarcelonaThe Opposition: Little needs to be written about Barcelona, the club which has beaten United in two recent Champions League finals. That said under new manager Tito Vilanova a new dawn has begun, with Los Culés having lost out on both Champions League and La Liga last season, with Chelsea winning in Europe and Real Madrid domestically. The usual rivals should be present in what will be one of Barça’s earliest pre-season games. United beat Barcelona in pre-season during the US tour last summer.

The Manager: Vilanova enjoyed a limited career as a player, touring some of Spain’s footballing backwaters. Indeed, success has not come automatically as a coach either, with Vilanova working his way up the ranks at Camp Nouw, first as head coach of Barcelona B, then assistant to Pep Guardiola. Vilanova was appointed Barcelona coach on a four-year contract in May.

UlleviThe Stadium: The Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg plays host to more than 40,000 spectators on match-days, although has no regular football tenant. The stadium was built for the 1958 FIFA World Cup, and has hosted the 1995 World Athletics Championships, the 1983 and 1990 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup finals, 1992 UEFA Euro final, and the UEFA Cup final in 2004.

The City: Göteborg – home to six-foot blondes, Volvo, Ericsson, and a thriving maritime industry. Founded in 1621 by King Gustavus Adolphus, the city is the second largest in Sweden, lies at the mouth of the Göta Älv river, and is the largest seaport in the Nordic countries. The Gothenburg Film Festival, held every January, entertains 155,000 visitors annually, while nearby Liseberg is ranked by Forbes magazine as one of the top ten amusement parks in the world.

 

Hanover – Saturday 11 August – Hannover 96, AWD Arena

Hannover 96The Opposition: Finishing seventh in Bundesliga last season, Hanover has traditionally been one of Germany’s middle-ranked clubs, having won the Bundesliga in 1938 and 1954. The club suffered financial difficulties in both the 1970s and 1990s, relegated to the second and then third divisions a decade ago. However, Hanover bounced back from years in the doldrums to the Bundesliga only to suffer from the tragic suicide of German international goalkeeper Robert Enke in 2009. Former United youth team player Ron-Robert Zieler is the club’s goalkeeper, while Mame Biram Diouf scored six Bundesliga goals in 10 games last season.

The Manager: Mirko Slomka was no great shakes as a player, but has forged a strong managerial career since retirement. Slomka was the head coach of Schalke from 2006 to 2008, and was in charge of the club when Die Königsblauen finished second to VfB Stuttgart in 2008. He also led Schalke to semi finals of UEFA cup in year 2005–06. Slomka is a giddy 32nd on Football Coach World Ranking!

AWDarenaThe Stadium: The 49,000-capacity AWDarena was refurbished at a cost of €82.8 million for the 2006 World Cup having been built in 1954. Originally known as Niedersachsenstadion, the stadium has carried the name of headline sponsor AWD since 2002, while it hosted games at World Cup 1974, Euro 1988, and World Cup 2006.

The City: Hanover is capital of the federal state of Lower Saxony, and was once the family seat of the Hanoverian Kings of Great Britain until, in 1901, the death of Queen Victoria. Hanover is home to rock bands Scorpions and Fury in the Slaughterhouse, DJ Mousse T and 2010 Eurovision Song Contest winner, Lena Meyer-Landrut. And if the musical heritage doesn’t appeal, the town in also host to CeBIT, one of the world’s largest technology trade fairs, and Schützenfest Hannover, the planet’s largest marksmen’s festival.

 

Summer Tour 2012 Schedule

18 Jul – AmaZulu FC, Durban, 8pm
21 Jul – Ajax Cape Town, Cape Town, 3pm
25 Jul – Shanghai Shenhua, Shanghai, 8pm
05 Aug – Valerenga, Oslo, 4pm
08 Aug – FC Barcelona, Gothenburg, 8pm
11 Aug – Hannover 96, Hanover 8.20pm

* All kick off times local

 

The Squad

Goalkeepers: Lindegaard, Amos, Johnstone

Defenders: Ferdinand, Veseli, Vermijl, Wootton, Blackett

Midfielders: Valencia, Anderson, Carrick, Scholes, Powell, Kagawa, Bébé, Tunnicliffe, Lingard, Brady, Petrucci

Forwards: Berbatov, Chicharito, Macheda

* Euro 2012 and Olympics participants may join towards the back-end of the tour

Reds face up to early season disruption

July 4, 2012 Tags: , , , , Opinion 8 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson could face a challenging start to the new season, with Euro 2012, injury, and the Olympics disrupting Manchester United’s preparations ahead of the Premier League’s start on 18 August. Seven United players will miss the Reds’ pre-season tour of South Africa, China and Norway after appearing in the Euro 2012 tournament this summer. Meanwhile, four Reds are set to appear in the Olympics, with the gold medal match scheduled to take place in London just a week before the new season kicks off. It could leave Ferguson without a dozen players during United’s pre-season programme.

United’s Euro 2012 players – Wayne Rooney, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck, Patrice Evra, Nani and Anders Lindegaard – will not travel with the touring party after being given extra time to recover this summer. None will miss the big kick-off, injury permitting, but neither will the group benefit from the pre-season matches required to be match fit for the start of the new campaign. The group will each return to training late, although Rooney played just twice at the tournament, Evra once, while Jones and Lindegaard spent Euro 2012 on the bench.

United began pre-season training on Monday 2 July, with Sir Alex’ side taking on Amazulu FC in Durban on 18 July, followed by matches with Ajax Cape Town in Cape Town three days later. United’s tour moves on to China, where Ferguson’s side meets Didier Drogba’s Shanghai Shenua, followed by a fixtures with Valerenga in Oslo, and Barcelona at the Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg. The lengthy and five country summer tour concludes with a match against Hannover 96 at the AWD Arena on 11 August.

Adding to Ferguson’s early season challenges, it appears likely that four players will also take part at the Olympics. Fixtures in the under-23 tournament are spread across the UK, with the football tournament starting on 25 July and concluding just a week before the new Premier League season finishes on 11 August in London.

David de Gea is included in Spain’s strong Olympics squad, with La Roja’s juniors one of the tournament favourites. The provisional Spanish squad also includes Juan Mata, Javier Martinez, and Jordi Alba, each of whom appeared at Euro 2012 this summer. Luis Milla’s young Spaniards are heavily based on the squad that secured the European U-21 championship last summer.

Challenging Spain for the tag of tournament favourite is Brazil, with coach Mano Menezes including Rafael da Silva in his provisional 35-man squad. The 50-year-old manager will cut his squad to 18 players by 6 July, and Rafael’s is not guaranteed. Brother Fabio, who this week joined Queens Park Rangers on loan for the 2012/13 season, is not included in Menezes’ tournament party.

Anderson, who played in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, is not included after losing his place in the Brazilian side, while the 24-year-old only qualifies as an over-age player.

Meanwhile, in the British Olympic squad Ryan Giggs and Tom Cleverley have been included by coach Stuart Pearce. Giggs’ inclusion had been long expected, adding an experienced bent to a young Anglo-Welsh squad. No Scots or Northern Irish players are included in Pearce’s squad.

Giggs is signed up to another campaign at Old Trafford, but will now miss pre-season to be part of Pearce’s squad, with the British taking on Senegal at Old Trafford in Britain’s first Olympic football fixture since 1960. Team GB play the United Arab Emirates at Wembley before the final Group A game against Uruguay in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on 1 August.

While Ferguson encourage Giggs’ participation, with the 38-year-old Welshman having missed out on tournament football with Wales, the United manager blocked all other over-age players taking part, including Rio Ferdinand, Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick. Chris Smalling misses out with the thigh injury that ended his hopes of being included in Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2012 party.

Cleverley’s inclusion is a mixed blessing though, with the 22-year-old having missed much of 2011/12 with a recurrent ankle injury. While Cleverley could play in at least three matches during United’s pre-season period, he will not join United’s touring party at any point. Cleverley, though, says he is taking part with Ferguson’s approval.

“Throughout my career I want to experience many things,” said Cleverley. “The Olympics would be a fantastic part of it. I’m buzzing about it. I cannot wait. It is a great way for me to bounce back after the disappointment of not going to the Euros with England.

“It’s a young squad, apart from the older-age players, and after England’s Euro 2012 experience a lot of people are talking about putting the accent on youth. This is a chance for me to remind people early. They’ve put trust in us and I want to repay that faith.”

“I need to hit the ground running for the new season and this is a great chance for me. The manager was happy for me that I was shortlisted and had no problems about me being in the Olympics. I will miss United’s pre-season tour and, ideally, I would have liked to do both. But after my injury spell out last season, Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick were doing so well I didn’t get much game time. So I need minutes on the pitch and I feel that playing in high-stake competitive matches like I’ll get at the Olympics is right for me.”

Elsewhere Ferguson has ensured that Javier Hernandez is not included in Mexico’s squad, despite suggestions that the 24-year-old could be his country’s flag-bearer at the Games. Meanwhile, new signing Shinji Kagawa will not be part of Japan’s squad for the three-week long tournament.

Add injuries to captain Nemanja Vidić, and Fletcher into the mix, and Ferguson faces up to United’s pre-season programme without a dozen players. It’s a disruptive element that will ensure some younger faces in the Reds’ touring party this summer.

Reds go west for fitness and fame

July 8, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 5 comments

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.

Squad

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

Gillette Stadium, Boston

20 July: Seattle Sounders, CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Washington

CenturyLink Field

23 July: Chicago Fire, Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois

SoldierField, Chicago

27 July: MLS All-Stars, Red Bull Arena, Hamilton, New Jersey

Red Bull Arena, Harrison New Jersey

30 July: Barcelona, FedEx Field, Washington, DC

FedEx Field, Washington

36 days later

July 4, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 12 comments

Little more than five weeks after Manchester United’s crushing defeat in the Champions League final and Sir Alex Ferguson’s players returned to pre-season training on Monday. Ferguson’s squad reports back to Carrington for seven days fitness assessment and intensive training ahead of the club’s summer tour to America that will take in Boston, Seattle, Chicago, New York and Washington.

Returnees include most of Ferguson’s squad, including new signing Ashley Young, although Javier Hernández will be given an extended break following his Gold Cup exploits and Antonio Valencia is away with Ecuador at the Copa America in Argentina. David de Gea, Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley and Chris Smalling have been given additional time off following the European Under-21 championships this summer but should all make United’s American trip at some stage.

Ferguson’s players set off for the States on 11 July, spending three weeks criss-crossing the continent, playing games against New England Revolution, Seattle Sounders, Chigcao Fire, a repeat of last summer’s fixture with MLS All-Stars, before concluding the tour with a game against European Champions Barcelona in Washington.

But the tour is, as always, part preparation and part commercial operation. Ferguson’s players will spend a week of intensive training at Nike’s headquarters in Portland, Oregon where Wayne Rooney was exciled last autumn, while the Scot’s squad will also rack up more than 8,000 miles in North America alone and have a rash of commercial commitments. Old Trafford’s bean counters can expect the tour to generate significant revenues for the club: around £5 million was pulled in from last summer’s games in Canada, US and Mexico.

Ferguson returns to Carrington with much having changed at the club in the weeks since the chastening loss to Barcelona at Wembley. In the wake of defeat Ferguson promised that United will “rise to the challenge”. It is no easy task following a second humiliating loss to Pep Guardiola’s side in the past three years.

Indeed, the challenge of closing the gap to Barça is made more difficult with a rash of retirements this summer; Edwin van der Sar, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville have called it a day since this time last year, while Owen Hargreaves has left the club with no known destination.

The turnover of playing staff is likely to increase with Darron Gibson, Wes Brown and John O’Shea certain to leave the club, while Bébé has joined Besiktas on loan. Gabriel Obertan and several members of United’s reserves look set to move on before the window closes in August.

Change will be felt in the backroom too, with Scholes joining Ferguson’s coaching staff, although no role has been defined yet for the 36-year-old former midfielder. Ferguson would also like van der Sar to remain with the club in more than an ambassadorial role, although the great Dutchman is committed to spending more time with his family.

The club’s reaction to the outflow has been to spend more heavily than has become the norm under the Glazer family’s regime. de Gea’s acquisition was widely expected as van der Sar’s replacement, while Jones offers additional defensive cover with Brown and O’Shea off to pastures new. Young will bring a new attacking option to an area that has been hit by injuries to Park Ji-Sung and Valencia in the past season. The former Aston Villa player will is unlikely to bridge to gap to Barcelona but will certainly be deployed more often than Gabriel Obertan or Bébé have in the past year.

Yet, the marquee central midfield signing that most supporters crave is has not materialised this summer, although Ferguson’s pursuit of Arsenal’s Samir Nasri is real. It had better be; neither Luka Modric nor Wesley Sneijder is likely to join the club unless United ups to bidding to unprecedented levels. Moreover, should either Manchester City or Chelsea pursue early interest in the 25-year-old French midfielder then United is also unlikely to start a bidding war for Nasri.

Pre-season also begins with doubts remaining about senior members of Ferguson’s squad, most notably Nani and Dimitar Berbatov. While the Portuguese has publicly declared his desire to remain at Old Trafford, Ferguson’s failed pursuit of Alexis Sanchez begs the question of how much faith the Scot still holds in Nani. The feeling may well be reciprocal with Jorge Mendes letting it be known to Nani’s many suitors that the winger is open to a move.

Meanwhile, Berbatov is reportedly of interest to a host of European clubs, including newly enriched Paris Saint Germain, Valencia and Juventus. The striker, who is out of contract next summer, will be allowed to leave for around half the £30 million fee United paid three years ago. The Bulgarian’s new-found role as 30-year-old part-time squad member may tip the balance in favour of a move.

It has been a busy 36 days. With 58 to go before the transfer window shuts there is likely to be more drama yet.