Manchester United could join AC Milan and Real Madrid by taking part in a series of lucrative friendly matches as a means of compensation for the lack of European competition this season. The Red Devils are said to be targeting a number of matches following the announcement that Italian and Spanish giants will meet in a friendly to be played at Dubai’s Sevens Stadium at the end of December.
The absence of competitive European soccer combined with an early exit from the League Cup means United only have one midweek fixture from now until the end of 2014. Furthermore, there are only three midweek games scheduled from January to March in 2015.
United have forecast a 10 per cent fall in revenue for this season following a disappointing seventh place finish in the Premier League last season. As a result, the club failed to even qualify for the Europa League. The United Arab Emirates is a seen as the ideal place to recoup losses while enjoying some winter sun.
The Red Devils went to Dubai last season, where they trained at the Nad Al Sheba Sports Complex. United were even treated to a training session with Dubai-based Argentine great, Diego Maradona. However, United have yet to play an exhibition game in the region. Major summer signings such as Radamel Falcao and Ángel Di María have given United more bargaining power when it comes to negotiating lucrative friendlies.
United boss Louis van Gaal complained during United’s pre-season tour in the US that too much was being done to please sponsors. He said clocking up too many miles was bad for preparation. However, he is also aware United need more than one game a week against big-name players if they are to have the requisite competition to prepare them for a return to the Champions League. According to United’s managing director Richard Arnold, van Gaal is also aware of United’s commercial responsibilities and that he welcomes the friendlies.
It has also been reported that United will consider other warm weather destinations in the English winter, such as Florida, where they played in pre-season. In 2000, United, who were then defending European champions, went to Brazil for the inaugural Club World Cup and pulled out of the FA Cup in the process. While they were heavily-criticized for devaluing the oldest knock-out competition, many claimed having a break from the hectic Premier League schedule gave United an advantage in the title race that season. United returned from Brazil to win the title.
While the trip to Brazil was for a tournament, it went a long way to cementing United’s popularity in the Americas. Now they are looking at making exhibition matches the norm and the first target is a series of lucrative friendlies in places like Dubai. Although van Gaal will not be happy with the thousands of air miles his players will clock up, winter sun and match practice against some of the best players in the world with nothing at stake other than pride could take the pressure off and give his side the perfect preparation.
Commentary by Robert Shepherd
Image courtesy of Ian C – license