For Manchester United what was supposed to be a triumphant beginning to their tour of Asia – training in front of 20,000 supporters, autograph sessions and courteous questions asked by fans, all of whom appeared to have bought club shirts – dissolved into chaos the moment the bombs struck in Jakarta.
The Premier League champions were 36 hours from checking into the Ritz-Carlton when a suspected suicide bomber detonated his device. Instead of travelling to Indonesia after this morning's friendly with Malaysia, Sir Alex Ferguson's team are to remain in Kuala Lumpur behind security that was visible if not always dreadfully effective. No attempt was made by armed police to search any of the hundreds of fans who flooded the Mandarin Oriental to meet men they usually adore from afar.
The chief executive, David Gill, said that they would try to invite the Indonesian all-star XI, who they were due to face in front of 67,000 in Jakarta on Monday night, to the Malaysian capital, although this is believed to have run into logistical problems.
The club may try to stage another open training session in Kuala Lumpur's Bukit Jalil stadium or arrange another match with a local team. There was even a suggestion they might fly straight to South Korea.
Gill was yesterday forced to fend off questions about why United had chosen to tour Indonesia in the first place. As long ago as April they had been warned that it was potentially an unsafe destination. "We were aware of the situation," said Gill. "We felt it was the right decision at the time. We discussed it with the experts and it is an important market for us. I don't think the globalisation of Manchester United is under threat. We have many commercial partners in Indonesia and they remain our partners. We have to move on rather than be persuaded by one very unfortunate incident."
The club had been expected to earn up to £6m from its four-date tour of Asia from commercial and television deals, while the host football associations retain the gate receipts. However, it was the safety of the team that persuaded United to cancel its first visit to Indonesia almost immediately after they were informed of the bombing – they were in the air when the Ritz-Carlton was hit. "You think about the Indonesian FA and how astonishingly hard they have worked to get Manchester United over there," Ferguson said. "But 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."
Ferguson yesterday oversaw the signing of one player – the Senegal Under-21 striker Mame Biram Diouf – and the departure of the Angolan striker Manucho to Spanish side Real Valladolid. Manucho failed to establish himself at Old Trafford and was loaned out to Panathinaikos and Hull, playing just six minutes for United.
In signing Diouf, who is no relation to El-Hadji, Ferguson beat Steve McClaren's FC Twente as well as a number of other clubs. Diouf scored 23 times for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's former club, Molde, and will be loaned back to the Norwegian club, joining United officially in January.
Ferguson said he had monitored Diouf for two years: "We didn't plan to buy anyone else but a number of other clubs were looking at him and it accelerated to the point where they were making bids so we felt we had to act."Reuse content