Manchester United team 36 hours away from tragedy

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The Independent Football

Manchester support staff were already at the Ritz Carlton in Jakarta and the team were 36 hours from checking in when the hotel's facade was torn away by a suspected suicide bomber. It did not take long for the Premier League champions to cancel their three-day visit to the city.

"The first reaction is one of shock," said manager Sir Alex Ferguson. "After taking stock of the situation, we felt we had to look after our players and make sure they would be comfortable going there so there was no option.

"We have made a decision and we won't be going back.It is a terrible disappointment. I have been travelling for 21 years with Manchester United and have always admired the fan base we have in Asia."

The region is perhaps football's most lucrative market. Real Madrid recently announced that they would be bringing forward the times of their kick-offs so that they could be screened at prime time in Asia and Manchester United have an enormous following there.

Thousands watched them train in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, yesterday and Monday's game in Jakarta was a 67,000-seat sell-out. Advertising and television tie-ins were expected to earn the club £6m from their haul around Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea and China.

When the tour was announced in April, the club were warned that going to Indonesia carried significant risk, especially for a team whose need to promote themselves with mass autograph signings and fans' forums makes them vulnerable. David Gill, the club's chief executive, said: "We were aware of the situation in Indonesia. We looked at the venues very carefully and took the appropriate advice. It is an important market for us. Balancing everything, we thought it was the correct decision to go, just as now it is the correct decision to cancel."