Manchester United vs Liverpool: A return to the '39th game' idea... or just a meaningless pre-season friendly?

Premier League bosses may consider re-igniting controversial idea

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The Independent Football

Manchester United and Liverpool will play the final game of the International Champions Cup in front of 65,000 people packed into Miami's Sun Life Stadium.

This comes just days after United faced Real Madrid in front of 109,318 fans at Michigan Stadium, a record attendance for a football match in the US.

With World Cup fever gripping fans Stateside like no other nation, Premier League boss Richard Scudamore may be whetting his lips at the prospect of going back to his controversial '39th game' idea and hosting it in the country.

The rise of football in the US can be simply seen in viewing figures for major sports; the final game of the NHL's Stanley Cup drew only six million viewers and the NBA Finals drew 18million in June.

This paled in comparison to the match between the USA and Portugal, which drew an astonishing 25m.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll also showed that the World Cup's popularity wasn't just down to the success of Jurgen Klinsmann's team, as 56 per cent of Americans said they were still watching the tournament after their team were eliminated.

This rang true when the World Cup final came around with an average of 30m Americans tuning in to see Germany beat Argentina and lift the trophy. NFL and the Super Bowl may still be king, but football is fast catching it.

There are now more than 3m registered youth players in the country, more than in any other country bar China, according to Fifa.

When he first proposed the idea in 2008, Scudamore was laughed out of the room by football fans and figures from all parts of the world.

The Football Association completely rejected the idea, but with Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers and Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher seemingly excited about playing out the fierce rivalry in Florida, Scudamore's interests may have again piqued.

“I think the sponsors will be delighted because you have two of the biggest clubs in the world coming to Miami,” said Rodgers. “It is arguably the biggest game in the world and for it to be here in the United States is wonderful for the supporters and the organisers.

Video: United beat Real Madrid

“It is two cities, not very far apart, who historically have always been huge rivals. We are the two biggest clubs in Britain, two of the biggest in the world, so it will be fantastic.”

Fletcher echoed his sentiments: “It’s Man Utd v Liverpool. I know it’s only pre-season and it’s just a summer competition, but when United play Liverpool, it is always a big deal.”

Manchester United and Liverpool are the two most popular teams in America, and sponsorship deals with American companies - Chevrolet for United and Warrior for Liverpool - will only serve to increase their familiarity with American fans.

However, the Premier League are now perhaps behind the trend for playing 'proper' matches in other parts of the world.Rodgers.jpg

The NFL will return to Wembley for a ninth successive year this autumn, this time playing three regular season matches - each game should draw a crowd of about 80,000 - while the NBA will again play at The O2 Arena in January after successive sell-outs.

Other football leagues have already started to explore their options, with the Italian Supercoppa, the equivalent of the Community Shield, staged in Beijing in three of the last five seasons and French football authorities made the same move, with their curtain-raiser in the same city just last week.

Should Premier League bosses explore the idea further, they will likely find opposition from domestic fans and Fifa, and perhaps even MLS bosses as they see their own league start to grow in popularity.

Some commentators say the game is the first step for the Premier League's ambitions on the world stage. But is the game really anything more than a friendly worth bragging rights for a pair of fierce local rivals?

Only time will tell.

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