Sir Alex Ferguson admits Man United tour of Africa was for money
Published 00:00 26/07/08 By By David Mcdonnell In Johannesburg
Sir Alex Ferguson admits that Manchester United's decision to play two games in South Africa and Nigeria within 24 hours was motivated purely by the money on offer.
United play the final game of their pre-season tour of South Africa in Pretoria today, then immediately board a charter flight to Abuja in Nigeria where they will earn £2million for playing an exhibition match against Portsmouth.
Given Fergie's well-documented opposition to what he considers an already cluttered fixture list, the United boss could do without such a hectic timetable, even though the start of the new season is still three weeks away.
But when quizzed on the motivation behind the decision to play two games in as many days - not to mention the 3,000 mile, five-and-a-half hour flight from Johannesburg to Abuja-Fergie admits the money on offer was the decisive factor.
"We've never been to Nigeria," said Fergie. "It was just an opportunity and you could say it is partly financial, of course.
"We have to take into consideration the financial invitations because we have a big operation.
"The squad we have is made up of something like 23 or 24 players now, so it has to be a well-run club to be able to afford all that.
"We'll name one team for Saturday's game in Johannesburg against Kaizer Chiefs and obviously another one for the game on Sunday against Portsmouth in Nigeria.
"There's obviously an issue with the climate, the heat and the altitude in both games, so we'll have a look at how the players progress during Saturday's game.
"We'll be making a number of substitutes, there's no question of that, and hopefully we will be able to do that from a position of strength in the game."
United are no strangers to hawking themselves around the globe if the price is right. In January, they took up a £1m offer to play an exhibition match in the Saudia Arabia capital of Riyadh, at the behest of Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad.
That trip attracted criticism from those who questioned the wisdom of clogging up an already congested fixture programme with an unnecessary extra game, and the stop-off in Nigeria on the way back from South Africa is likely to provoke similar debate.
But Fergie defended the decision by insisting he and his United backroom staff had given their players enough time to recover from the gruelling travel and crossing of different time zones before the start of the new campaign.
"When we've travelled on pre-seasons to the Far East, for example, we've always factored in enough leeway to recover from trips like that," said Fergie. "We've done that because it's always difficult to recover from those kind of trips."
Fergie has already raised concerns about the state of the pitch at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium ahead of today's game, as well as the standard of refereeing, after some brutal challenges were allowed to go unpunished in earlier games on the tour.
Against that backdrop, should key players including Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs or Carloz Tevez get injured today or tomorrow in Nigeria, United would face some tough questions about the wisdom of agreeing to playing two games in 24 hours.
"I've seen the pitch in Pretoria," said Fergie. "It was very dry and the grass was long.
"But I spoke to the stadium manager and she was very helpful.
"She said the intention was to cut the grass and water the pitch overnight and twice after that before the game."
TRAVELLING THE PLANET
Manchester United's pre-season tours have taken them all over the world and the increasingly lucrative market in India is being investigated for a pre-season tour next year. Their recent trips:
2003 AMERICA: Portland, Seattle, LA, Phildelphia, New York
2004 AMERICA: New York, Chicago, Philadelphia
2005 FAR EAST: Hong Kong, Beijing, Tokyo
2006 SOUTH AFRICA: Durban, Cape Town, Johannesburg
2007 FAR EAST: Tokyo, Seoul. South Korea, Macau, Guangzhou
2008 CAPE TOWN: Durban, Johannesburg, Abuja in Nigeria.