Sir Alex Ferguson welcomes four key World Cup stars back into the fold on Wednesday night as the squad plays its final pre-season warm up game ahead of the new season. Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, Nemanja Vidic and Park Ji-Sung will each start United’s fixture against an Airtricity League XI, which formally opens the €410 million Arriva Stadium.
With the lengthy trip to Canada, USA and Mexico now complete, Ferguson will offer many of United’s tour party a welcome rest for the match in Dublin. Ferguson hinted at changes after three weeks on the road and thousands of miles covered in pursuit of pre-season fitness Dollar and Peso.
Although Ferguson’s team lost its final tour fixture against Chivas de Guadalajara, with new boy Javier Hernández scoring against his teammates, the tour certainly proved successful from a marketing standpoint. More than 200,000 fans turned up for United’s five fixtures on tour, with a largely positive response received from fans and media alike.
Having offered the club’s fit World Cup players – Rio Ferdinand remains in treatment, Nani played on tour – an extended break, Rooney and co will take the first steps towards starting against Newcastle United on 16 August with a run out in Dublin. The club’s fitness coach Tony Strudwick has put the quintet through a week of intensive fitness training ahead of the remaining pre-season fixture and the Community Shield next Sunday.
“Rooney, Park, Carrick and Vidic are back in training and are doing well,” said Ferguson, who also welcomes back the returning Antonio Valenica to the squad.
“Valencia is also training well and needs a game. All of them will be involved and Chicharito (Hernández) will also be part of the squad.”
Irishman John O’Shea will captain the United side in its last outing before the serious business begins in earnest next Sunday. Ferguson spoke of United’s history with Ireland, underlined by the Scot’s sentimental choice of captain.
“This is a great way to recognise the relationship we have (with Ireland), which goes back many, many years, to the days of Johnny Carey. We have had some fantastic players from Ireland,” added the United manager.
Despite local interest, all eyes will be on Rooney who plays for the first time since England’s thrashing at the hands of Germany in the World Cup second round. Although the player denies it, Rooney’s fitness looked well short of peak condition in South Africa this summer following an ankle injury sustained against Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter final.
The player also courted controversy this week, being pictured smoking and drinking until 5.30am at a family party amid concerns that United’s reliance on Rooney has not yet been resolved.
One potential solution to that problem, Hernández, will also play in Ireland as the Mexican’s acclimatisation to the United squad continues. Hernández scored both for United against an MLS All Star team in Houston and then against his new teammates for Chivas on Friday night, with the hype attached to the 22-year-old now hitting fever pitch.
The expectation is perhaps heightened by Dimitar Berbatov’s poor form in pre-season, Michael Owen’s injury and the impending loan deals for Danny Welbeck at Sunderland and Mame Biram Diouf at Blackburn Rovers that will leave Ferguson with four front-line strikers at the season’s start.
United’s fixture Wednesday night, together with the Community Shield, which Ferguson treats as little more than another warm-up match anyway, provide the squad with two final opportunities to gel ahead of the Premier League’s start a week Monday.