Sir Alex Ferguson has again condemned international friendlies as a “worthless waste of time” in a week that England reserves play Ghana in front of more than 80,000 duped fans at Wembley. And the 69-year-old Scot surely has a point, with neither players, nor club coaches taking friendlies seriously – normally prompting a host of withdrawals and minor injuries. Although there is no little irony in Ferguson’s proclamation coming in the week that Manchester United announces another extensive tour of the US.
“I am all in favour of the competitions,” Ferguson told Sirius radio today.
“The players should play in the major competitions; the European Championship, the World Cup. But friendlies are a waste of time as far as I am concerned. It is understandable for the coach. They have the players for a period when they can influence them and can build and shape their team. I can understand that completely.
“But every time there are friendlies you get six or seven call offs. It is sometimes worthless for the manager to build on that because of the lack of players.”
Indeed, Ferguson has long-held international friendlies in contempt, with matches adding to his players’ fixture burden during the season and the risk of injuries high.Ferguson is increasingly not alone in this regard, with major European clubs all keen to end fixtures that are not FIFA sponsored qualifying or tournament matches.
Perhaps little surprise then that Fabio Capello released four key members of his squad this week, mindful that he must keep club managers on side. United’s Wayne Rooney joined new England captain John Terry, Michael Dawson, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Aaron Lennon in returning to their clubs.
Yet the withdrawals make a mockery of England’s fixture against the World Cup quarter-finalists, with an FA spokesperson today forced to spin the game as a good opportunity for some of Capello’s lesser-lights. Former Ghana captain Stephen Appiah came closer to the truth, branding the late withdrawals as “disrespectful”.
“A lot of Ghanaians have travelled from America, Canada, from around the world. It’s a dream come true. It’s huge, it’s big and Ghanaians are going to follow the match,” added the 30-year-old.
“Ghanaians are disappointed. They really wanted to see those players. The players wish they could play against JT. It’s their dream to play against Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and all these players. Maybe some of them will not play in that stadium again.”
In truth the FA, burdened with over whelming debt incurred during Wembley’s reconstruction, is forced to fill every date on the international calendar, no matter how pointless the game. And this is as pointless as international friendlies come, although presumably not to the sell out crowd, including 21,000 Ghanaian fans who might have expected a full-strength England team.
Still, Ferguson will remain open to charges of hypocrisy when he announces a money-spinning but lengthy five-date US tour on Tuesday. The Scot flew to the US to unveil the summer 2011 tour, which follows United’s trip to Canada, the US and Mexico in 2010. That tour earned the Reds more than £3 million in revenues, with large crowds at many venues including Houston where United beat an MLS All Stars team 5-2.
The club today pre-briefed media on the 2011 tour, which will include another fixture against the All-Stars, this time in New York. It’s a match so ‘friendly’ that it takes place against a team that is neither a regular club, nor owns a home ground. Meanwhile, the club’s fortnight-long tour will also take in Boston on 14 July before ending in Washington with a fixture against Barcelona on 30 July.
“We’re delighted to have been invited to play the MLS All-Star game for the second year running,” added Ferguson.
“Last year’s game was a special occasion in front of a noisy, passionate crowd. Obviously we’ll be looking to repeat the performance and the score line.”
… and raise revenues for much-needed summer replacements, the Scot could also have added.
It is, of course, a sign of the times, with profit now the primary consideration during the summer break and not players’ recuperation or preparation for the coming season. Indeed, it is more than a decade since United last remained in Europe during the summer, where trips to Scandinavia were once commonplace.Those were the days before United strove to ‘break America’, open new Asian markets or extend the club’s ‘brand value’.
Nostalgia perhaps. Not unlike recalling England’s distant international glories.