Manchester United set off for their pre-season tour this week and will be jetting off to South Africa for their opening fixture on July 18. The tour is the first opportunity to see United in action after the summer break and really kick starts the season. When the tour comes around, you know football is nearly back.
Manutd.com journalist Nick Coppack kindly took some time out to answer a few questions about the upcoming tour with us about what it means to be a red and how seeing all of Manchester United’s global fans is really special.
Is this the first tour you will be going on? Why do you think having a pre-season tour is so important for the team?
This will be my fourth tour in the last five years. I covered the trip to South Africa in 2008, Asia in 2009 and last year’s tour to the United States. They’re great experiences for players, staff and the fans we visit.
Pre-season plays a pivotal role in the preparations for the forthcoming season and not only in terms of the match fitness it provides. It’s just as vital for integrating new signings or promising young players to the first-team setup. United isn’t like any other club – the spotlight shines brighter on players than it does anywhere else and there’s more expectation and responsibility when you’re a Red.
Tours help those new players adjust to life at the club and get to know their new team-mates. You don’t have any other option when you eat, sleep and train alongside each other for weeks on end.
You will be travelling over 20,000 miles as part of this tour, over four times more than United will travel in the entire Premier League season next year. How do players cope with such high demands of travel?
Long-distance travel is part and parcel of life for most top players. In international breaks, for instance, players like Anderson, Javier Hernandez and Antonio Valencia regularly travel halfway around the world to turn out for their countries.
Rest assured that everything is done to make sure flights are made comfortable for players. United’s tour plane features an extended first/business class, with seats that recline to a flat or near-flat position. The sports science team also provide flight socks and regularly exercises to ensure there’s no threat of DVT [Deep Vein Thrombosis].
United are a phenomenally well supported team globally. What does it mean to the players to get to see their fans out there?
No matter how many times you travel with United, the reception the club gets in foreign countries never fails to blow you away. The players feel the same. Most of them are football fans as well, remember, so they can appreciate the way a lot of supporters feel towards their favourite team.
Pre-season tours usually offer a few opportunities for fans to meet players and these events produce some real highlights for the squad. The players often come away commenting on how knowledgeable and passionate the fans are.
Who are you most looking forward to watching in the pre-season and who do you think is going to be a star of the tour?
I can’t wait to see how Shinji Kagawa will fit into the team. I think his fondness for carrying the ball forward could provide a real injection of pace to our attacks and he seems a very intelligent distributor of the ball. Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez will probably benefit a lot from his incisive passing.
As for picking out a “star”, I think the fans in China will go crazy for Hernandez. Judging by the reception he got across America last year, he’s a real hit with overseas audiences. This tour will also be interesting because of the number of young players involved. For them, this is a big opportunity to prove they can cut it on a big stage.
What place are you most looking forward to visiting?
That’s a tough question. All the destinations have their own charm, but I’d have to say Shanghai. I enjoy being in new countries and experiencing new cultures, so the more it’s different to England the more I tend to enjoy it. That said, I’ve also wanted to visit Gothenburg for a few years, so I’m glad United have squeezed in a game there. Against Barcelona, too.
Finally, United cruelly lost out on the title last season merely by goal difference even though our squad was blighted by injuries almost the whole campaign. Do you think next season is going to be just as exciting, tense and dramatic as the 2011/12 one?
I’m not sure anything can beat the rollercoaster ride we experienced on the final day, but I’m sure 2012/13 will throw up its fair share of drama. Football’s never in a state of flux – there’s always a new scandal, sub-plot or change of circumstance to keep things interesting.
But the signs look promising from a United point of view: the signings we’ve made point to a more attacking look to the side, while the disappointment of last season will make players like Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck even more hungry to get their hands on a league winner’s medal.
For news, interviews and behind the scenes access, keep up to date with the Manchester United Tour blog that will be kept right up to date with all the action on tour.