US tour helping United forget their troubles
Alex Ferguson and David Gill might have reached for the ear plugs when Paul McCartney began his rendition of 'Yesterday' during his sell-out concert at Kansas City's Sprint Center on Saturday evening.
Hours earlier, during a press conference at the Inter-Continental Hotel where both McCartney and the Manchester United squad are staying, Ferguson had delivered the latest negative bulletin on the fitness of Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, whose return from a knee ligament injury will now be delayed until early September.
Coupled with Friday's news that 4,000 season tickets have gone on general sale at Old Trafford, McCartney singing about all his troubles being "here to stay" in front of Ferguson and United chief executive Gill was rather unfortunate.
Ferdinand's setback, which he acknowledged on Twitter yesterday, and confirmation that Michael Owen will miss the start of the season with a hamstring injury suffered almost six months ago are depressing devel-opments for Ferguson and United.
As for Owen Hargreaves, still in Colorado visiting knee specialist Richard Steadman, good news has become a stranger. Yet despite the blows being inflicted on and off the pitch, there is a sense in the United camp that their pre-season tour of North America is offering a comfort blanket for Ferguson and Gill.
The United manager is almost evangelical in his belief in the club's emerging players, such as Jonny Evans, Darron Gibson, Chris Smalling, Federico Macheda and Tom Cleverley, who have impressed on the tour. Gill, who is leading United's ever-increasing commercial team in the States, needs only to review the projection the club are getting across the major sports networks and in the local media to appreciate the value of touring a country so often perceived to be soccer-sceptic.
United's debt under the Glazers, which stands at £716.5m, is a black cloud that refuses to clear. Although the issue of supporter discontent has been addressed by the American media, the majority of the coverage relates to last week's issue of Forbes magazine, which again placed United as the world's most valuable sports team -- at $1.83bn ahead of the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees.
Aon, the risk management service provider based in Chicago, has poured £80m into United's bank account for the privilege of having its logo on the club's shirts, while Nike's £302.9m deal continues to drip-feed into the club's account. It has been reported locally that United are banking in the region of £2m a game from fixtures around North America.
So while the gritty reality of news from home continues to make its way across the Atlantic, the Stateside perspective is that United can do no wrong and big businesses and corp-orations are falling over themselves to be seen with Ferguson or his team .
United will return to England on Saturday after a game against Mexican club Chivas in Guadalajara and the recurring issues will confront them again. The holiday will be over. The anti-Glazer protests will return, the Red Knights will continue to stalk the American owners and the injury battles of Ferdinand, Owen and Hargreaves will remain at the forefront of Ferguson's mind.
United expect the 4,000 unsold season tickets to be bought up ahead of the Premier League opener against Newcastle on August 16, however, and insist that 50,000 sales "in the teeth of a recession" is a positive figure. The Old Trafford attendance against Newcastle, a fixture being staged on a Monday evening, will offer the first real indication of the success of sales and whether a proposed season-ticket boycott by fans has landed a blow.
Within United, the hope is that a full house and a dazzling debut by Mexican forward Javier Hernandez will draw a line under the club's summer of discontent. But that is the problem with being in America. At times, it appears as though the outside world does not exist. Only when Ferguson and Gill return to Manchester will they discover whether McCartney had it right with those troubles being here to stay. (© Daily Telegraph, London)