Farce raises questions

China tour will help new Manchester coaches decide purpose of pre-season preparations

LONDON • Chase the dollar or chase bespoke preparation for the new Premier League season?

This is the question fans of Manchester United and Manchester City may ask after their derby in Beijing was called off less than six hours before kick-off on Monday due to unsuitable conditions.

Given the pitch at Beijing's National Stadium was a patchwork of loose turf and infected with fungus, the puzzle is why the match was not cancelled earlier.

The outcome was damaging for United, City and Relevant Sports, which is headed by Charlie Stillitano, the man behind the International Champions Cup.

Hu Mulin, a 17-year-old wearing a David Beckham shirt outside the Bird's Nest, as the ground is also known, said: "I am a big Manchester United fan. I love Beckham, Rooney and Rashford.

"I am angry because I had a ticket and now they can't play the match. We drove here by car and it took six or seven hours with my father and my friend."

  • 10
    Number of days which the Man City deputy head groundsman was at the Beijing National Stadium to help with pitch preparations.

The farce may also cause awkward debate involving managers Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola and the commercial departments of United and City about where the clubs go next summer.

The decision to cancel was taken at 2pm local time following a pitch inspection. But both managers already had strong reservations about preparing players in stifling heat and playing on a pitch that threatened to cause serious injuries just three weeks before the start of the Premier League season

On Sunday, Guardiola, despite having considerable input into City's tour, highlighted the conditions, saying: "We know the humidity is not ideal."

United's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward blamed the cancellation on weather that "would have caused problems anywhere in the world".

Yet, City's deputy head groundsman was at the stadium for 10 days, helping with the pitch. United's groundsman was also consulted about the surface and, given the venue is rarely used for football, both clubs had concerns before the torrential rain.

Mourinho had no say in the two-game eight-day trip because it was planned by his predecessor, Louis van Gaal. Next summer it is his decision alone where United go, the club say. Yet, Woodward and the owners, the Glazers, will have considerable input and will stress commercial imperatives.

At City, Guardiola will make the call together with the commercial department and other club stakeholders.

A glaring truth is that United and City are engaged in the race for global reach and the finance it yields.

It means Khaldoon Al Mubarak and Ferran Soriano, City's chairman and chief executive respectively, can sign off a trip to China and then find Guardiola feeling moved to say "no injuries" as his first words of the pre-Beijing derby press conference.

And it means Woodward can sanction a trip to the same destination and watch a visibly upset Mourinho wish for the "good luck" of no injuries.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2016, with the headline 'Farce raises questions'. Print Edition | Subscribe