Manchester United eclipse solar phenomeneon in South Korea
22 July 2009 12:46
Yet despite the once-in-a-lifetime feel to the occasion, the myriad big screens located on seemingly every street corner in the city were only interested in Wayne Rooney, Ji-sung Park and Michael Owen.
Manchester United are in town and even a solar eclipse cannot knock them from the top of the news agenda in the South Korean capital.
'All 64,000 tickets for Friday's friendly against FC Seoul at the city's World Cup Stadium were sold within ten hours when they went on sale in May. United are big in Asia, but their popularity goes off the scale in South Korea and not only because of Park, an iconic figure in his home country.
The 28-year-old has spent the last week training with hometown club Suwon in the build-up to his first appearance for United in South Korea.
When United last visited Seoul in 2007, Park was sidelined with a cruciate ligament injury, but his presence on the bench during a 4-0 victory ensured that his every appearance on the stadium's big screen resulted in piercing screams of adulation from the Korean supporters.
Park's domestic popularity, combined with United's long-standing status as the number one club amongst the country's football supporters, will once again see fans camp outside the team's hotel base just to catch a glimpse of their idols. Two years ago, United's hotel was stalked night and day for three days by hundreds of local supporters.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said: "I don't think we'll ever get used to the reception we get in Asia. It's totally overwhelming and the intensity begins the moment you get off the plane."
The only danger facing United's players is that of being smothered by adulation in a country that can claim no fewer than 1.2m Manchester United credit card holders.
Dimitar Berbatov, currently experiencing his first taste of life with United in Asia, admits that the reception afforded to the players so far during the Far East tour has left him stunned.
Berbatov said: "This is my first pre-season with the team. I've never been on a tour like this.
"It's like being in The Beatles! Everybody is screaming and chanting Manchester United names.
"I'm very happy to be part of it and it makes you feel good that so many people want to come and see you. It doesn't matter where we go, we are always welcomed like we're the biggest club in the world."
Berbatov has yet to shine for United on tour. While summer signing Michael Owen has scored twice in two games, the Bulgarian has yet to get off the mark, but he has shown signs of a promising partnership with his new strike partner.
With Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez no longer at the club, though, Berbatov accepts that he must raise his game in the new season.
"I think I can do better than I did last season," he admits. "I think I can do more. That's why I'm happy to be here on the pre-season tour.
"It's always beneficial to start well and have a good pre-season and I feel I'm training well at the moment.
"I'm here to score goals and I hope to score more and more for United this season."