It’s now official; Manchester United’s pre-season tour of China has been an unmitigated disaster.
In less than a week, United have traveled 5,682 miles on a thirteen hour flight, been immediately overwhelmed by the stifling heat and humidity, struggled to get through customs, decimated by Borussia Dortmund in a friendly, had a plane diverted because of bad weather, a news conference rearranged due to an oven-like press room, then their final match was cancelled after torrential rain ruined an already awful pitch. Somewhere in amidst this chaos they also trained. Hopefully.
Pre-season tours weren’t always this complicated. But then again football wasn’t always this extraordinarily bountiful, too.
Considering how glossy and meticulously managed the world of football has become, there was plenty of schadenfreude to feast upon as United’s pre-season unravelled. United will now travel back to Manchester with the players probably pondering why they just undertook such an extraneous journey for seemingly little reward.
Manchester United Fan View: Pre-Season tours are a frustrating, necessary evil
But the stark reminder of why Manchester United needed to travel to China could be with them by the end of the week, when Paul Pogba becomes the world’s most expensive footballer at a reported cost of £105 million. Even before then, the players’ mansions, cars, and bulging bank accounts should do a good enough job of hinting at why they were there, too.
Like actors, whose work now extends way beyond simply standing and pontificating in front of a camera, footballers now have the responsibility to promote United’s endorsements and campaigns. The reason why United’s participation in the International Champions Cup felt like an after-thought was because it was exactly that.
United’s main task was to take advantage of the market in the region, especially as China is embracing western entertainment and sport more fervently than ever, which means that there is literally billions of pounds there for consumption. That’s why Manchester United’s latest home strip was launched in Shanghai on Saturday.
The problem is Manchester United won’t be able to pull in such riches if they don’t return to the Champions League and start consistently winning trophies again very soon, something that a good pre-season is crucial in helping to them to ascertain.
Following the China debacle, which comes just two years after Louis Van Gaal publically criticised United’s exorbitant U.S. pre-season, it’s become clear that United need to strike a better balance between getting the players up to fitness for the coming season and fulfilling their promotional duties.
Because, if they don’t, their inability to do the former will ultimately undermine and reduce the need to do the latter at all.