Football: China Manchester derby called off after pitch deemed dangerous

Manchester United coach Jose Mourinho (centre) looks out from the team bus before departing for the airport after the match between Manchester United and Manchester City was cancelled.
Manchester United coach Jose Mourinho (centre) looks out from the team bus before departing for the airport after the match between Manchester United and Manchester City was cancelled.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING • The pre-season Manchester derby that would have pitted United's new manager Jose Mourinho against his City counterpart Pep Guardiola was cancelled hours before yesterday's encounter due to weather concerns in Beijing.

Organisers of the International Challenge Cup tournament confirmed the match had been called off on grounds of player safety.

"The conditions experienced in Beijing on July 19 and July 20 were reported as being some of the most extreme weather conditions the capital of China has experienced in recent history," said a statement from the organisers.

"The committee and both teams have made the decision together in the interest of player safety."

City captain Vincent Kompany said club staff had been working to get the game on after days of heavy rain in the Chinese capital, but had been defeated.

"We had our groundsman working for 10 days on the pitch, but the conditions were just too dangerous for the players," said Kompany on the club's website yesterday.

Besides the poor weather, United's build-up to the match was overshadowed when their plane was "lost" en route to Beijing.

While Mourinho and some of his squad flew from Shanghai to the Chinese capital on Saturday on a separate aircraft that had no issues, a second one with the remainder of the team was diverted to Tianjin, around 112km away, on account of bad weather.

Forward Memphis Depay tweeted a video of himself standing near the plane after it had landed, saying: "We are lost somewhere, we had to make a quick landing somewhere.

"We tried to fly to Beijing but the weather is a little bit bad so we had to land somewhere else."

The plane eventually arrived in the Chinese capital and while Mourinho said it was not an ideal situation, he was glad that his players took it in their stride.

"The second group was unlucky," he said.

"The plane was not good, they had a storm and had to land in (Tianjin) for about a couple of hours.

"They finally arrived at the hotel to have dinner at 1am in the morning. The players are good guys. They had a smile on their faces, which is good."

Around 50,000 tickets had reportedly been sold for the match at up to US$200 (S$272) and organisers said they would all be refunded.

The cancellation means fans will now have to wait until the English Premier League derby on Sept 10 for the bitter rivalry between Mourinho and Guardiola to be renewed.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2016, with the headline 'China Manchester derby called off after pitch deemed dangerous'. Print Edition | Subscribe