Thousands of Chinese soccer fans went home very disappointed last Monday evening, following the cancellation of the much-anticipated Manchester derby, after rain the previous week had left the pitch at the Bird’s Nest stadium in an unplayable state. Coupled with less than stellar pre-season tours in previous years, it’s hard to see many top Premier League teams jumping at the chance to return to China, especially when trips to the US and elsewhere are so much more enjoyable.
The expected resumption of hostilities between Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, the new coaches of City and United respectively, had shone an unusually bright spotlight on this pre-season friendly, which, unfortunately, only served to highlight the inadequacies of the event’s preparation.
First it was David Beckham, now it’s the entire English Premier League. After Becks made three visits to China this year
to make money as a special ambassador for the Chinese Super League, a deal has been signed between the English Premier League and the Chinese Super League (CSL), to coincide with UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s current trip to China.
It’s almost becoming its own feature at this point: who has Huawei sponsored this week? This year the company has signed sponsorship deals with the ITU World Triathlon Grand Finale in London, German soccer team Borussia Dortmund, NZ soccer team Wellington Phoenix, and Australian rugby league side Canberra Raiders. Then there was a China-New Zealand soccer match, the 2011 Italian Super Cup in Beijing, plus Atletico Madrid in last year’s Madrid derby, and that’s before we get on to Huawei’s recent musical tie-ups with Coldplay and, er, the Jonas Brothers.
Sir Alex Ferguson released his second autobiography this week and the press were eager to find out what he really thought of Beckham, Keane, Wenger, Rooney etc at the launch event in London. Press conferences like this tend to have a fairly standard format, where either a moderator invites journalists by name to ask questions, or the TV reporters kick things off and it follows from there.
But they were all taken by surprise when Ferguson walked in nearly ten minutes early and as things were still settling down, a Chinese journo asked for Ferguson’s views about Chinese football and also why he had allegedly been rude to a female reporter in the past (details of this were not clear). Fergie laughed off the second part, before answering:
I wrote about the state of Hong Kong stadium last week, after which two more Barclays Asia Trophy games took place and another player was injured. I don’t usually sympathize with players who get paid tens (and sometimes hundreds) of thousands of pounds per week for kicking a ball around a field, but that changes somewhat when their safety is willfully put at risk simply because the Premier League must make money at all costs.
The Manchester United squad was pictured watching the games on Saturday. Do these faces look like they are happy about playing here this evening?
Hong Kong has been drawing lots of negative attention this week – specifically the semi-flooded state of the Hong Kong Stadium pitch, on which the Barclays Asia Trophy is being played. It consists of 3 EPL teams and a local side sliding through puddles under the guise of vaguely competitive soccer.
Maybe things will be different next summer, but pre-season tours of China by European soccer teams appear to be a thing of the past. This week’s Sports Talk column, posted below, explains why, though when English Premier League teams are touring Costa Rica but not China, it’s obvious the business model here is broken. It would be interesting to see how many fans would turn up if a – gasp! – regular season EPL game was played in China; if the NFL, with its far shorter season, can do it, then why can’t the EPL? I suspect it would be a full house, but ticket prices might be an issue, as I discuss below.
Sina Weibo welcomes Manchester United
Manchester United finally – finally – have an official Sina Weibo page here after a shocking lack of presence here, filled largely by fan pages. For years, the powers that be at Old Trafford were arrogant enough to think that everyone would simply go to the team’s homepage, and the club has now also launched a Twitter page for the first time (@ManUtd). The site now has more than 100,000 followers (though always take Sina Weibo numbers with a sack of salt), as compared to close to four times that amount on Twitter. Nothing of particular note is up yet on the Weibo site – so far just a few pictures and headlines from their Asian Tour – but at least it’s a step in the right direction in trying to connect with Chinese fans.
Lists like SportsPro magazine’s Most Marketable Athletes [full list below] are equal parts inspired and enraging. I love the fact that Brazilian Paralympian Alan Oliveira (no. 17) is included, combining his age, talent and good looks with the undoubted boost to Brazilian sport that the next World Cup and Olympics will bring, almost as much as I hate the selection of Seth Jones (39), who is largely unknown even within his own sport, and, at 18, may not even play a single NHL game in the next three years even if he later develops into an All-Star.