<
>

Preseason U.S. visits continue to be favoured by Man United and Mourinho

"If I wanted to enjoy places, I would go to Los Angeles Galaxy and go to the beach every day," Jose Mourinho told me last season when I put it to him that he wasn't happy about the lifestyle in Manchester.

"For me as football manger, London, Milan, Madrid, Manchester, Beijing or Shanghai is the same," said Mourinho. "I don't go to cities to enjoy cities; I go to cities to work, to be a football manager. I go to make people happy. In this case, the percentage of people that is Man United, like in Madrid the percentage of people that is Real. That's my job."

Mourinho loves LA and takes his squad there on Sunday for a week of training at UCLA before their first preseason game against LA Galaxy next Saturday. He heads west in a better mood than a year ago when United to China. Then, there were concerns about pitches, travel, heat and floods, a combination of which would lead to the cancellation of a derby in Beijing against Manchester City.

United's manager was furious with the people at the club responsible for logistics, as he was when a plane, chartered to fly United back to Manchester after a March FA Cup quarterfinal at Chelsea, went AWOL, leaving them with a four-hour coach ride instead.

Club secretary John Alexander will leave United in September, but it wasn't his fault that air traffic control put restrictions in place at Heathrow, just as it had not been his fault a year that a storm in China meant a flight carrying half his squad had to land at a different airport.

The logistics and commercial demands of a tour can agitate a manager. Sir Alex Ferguson regularly let his feelings be known, while Louis van Gaal got a hotel changed in 2014 -- the last time United were in LA -- to be closer to the training pitch. That came after coach journey from Beverly Hills to Pasadena for training took two hours, even with a police escort.

United have visited the United States several times since the 1950s. My own uncle Charlie, who played 162 times for the club, was tapped up by Colombian side Santa Fe while in a Times Square hotel room in 1950 and offered ten times his Old Trafford wage. However, there was a two-decade hiatus before United returned in 2003.

For more than 20 years, the U.S. and Asia have been the most popular destinations for preseason tours, with the level of sophistication increasing greatly during that time. In 1995, when United's popularity was surging and they'd won two Premier League titles in the previous three seasons, organisation was lax. They arrived in Malaysia not knowing how many times they would play and the club was less than impressed.

Ferguson wanted at least two games and they eventually did. Against the same team in the same stadium, a couple of days apart. Not surprisingly, the crowd was far smaller for the second game, which took place in a quarter-full stadium. But there have been more highs than lows and tours have since become fully-geared up marketing machines, with the club taking a back-up staff.

Playing in the U.S. is beneficial in several ways. First, the club receives significant match fees from the huge crowds that pay top dollar to see them play in large stadia.

Second, United are American-owned by the Glazer family and officials can glad hand the many sponsors they court in their home territory. Meanwhile, media coverage helps raise the club's profile and attract new supporters. Bigger TV deals can follow and a larger fan base means more sponsors can be attracted in the world's richest economy.

United are particularly keen to expand their own media operation and have had more success in America than any other country with a recently-launched, paid-for app that shows snippets of MUTV content. The overall reaction has been less than the club had hoped, though.

At the turn of the century, a much-vaunted, information-sharing partnership with another commercial behemoth, the New York Yankees, petered out into nothingness, but United have learned from that and the U.S. remains a key market, just as it does for other big clubs: Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have opened offices in New York, which is also home to NYCFC, sister club of Manchester City.

And then there's the football. Preseason is hugely important and players, who also use the tours to better get to know new signings, are given a chance to impress with less pressure than in a competitive game. Early indicators can be revealing: Ander Herrera was man of the match on his debut in LA three years ago; Memphis Depay was dreadful in the first warm-up game at Wigan last year and his fortunes didn't pick up after that.

United's games in America usually produce plenty of goals, though a 2004 goalless draw in Chicago vs. Bayern was awful and led to several players being flown out to join the tour after high-paying organisers and fans rightly complained about the lack of star names present following the European Championship.

But that was an exception; more typical examples have been a 3-1 win in July 2014 against Real Madrid before a crowd of 109, 318 in Michigan, as well as a four-day stretch 11 years earlier, in which Juventus were beaten 4-1 in New Jersey and Barcelona fell 3-1 in Philadelphia. That said, don't read too much into the results, for teams are often at different stages of their preparation.

Players prefer the U.S., a country without the mass fan hysteria of Thailand, Malaysia or China, where they are reluctant to leave their hotels. Training facilities are usually superior and the culture is enjoyed; Paul Pogba and new signing Romulo Lukaku chose to be in LA this week for a private holiday, which became public thanks to their partying antics.

And the only time any of the players ask for a selfie with someone else is usually in America. In the case of Ryan Giggs, it was with Niall Horan from boy band One Direction, two years ago in Chicago. It was for his daughter, you understand...