Asia remains Manchester United's promised land
United were unable to test the water in Indonesia during the club's four-game Far East tour. The hotel bombings in Jakarta on July 17 left United with no option but to cancel their planned trip to the Indonesian capital. Whether United can conceivably play in Indonesia in the near future and satisfy their huge fanbase remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that United will be back in Asia before too long. While Chelsea have spent two of the last three summers in the United States, it is now five years since United last crossed the Atlantic during pre-season. Not once since the 2005 takeover of the club by the Florida-based Glazer family have United played a game in the USA. Owned by Americans and sponsored by the American financial giant AIG, the USA and United would appear to be the perfect fit. But the United hierarchy have learned that Asia is where the club has to be. The Americans struggle to 'get' soccer and United, while enjoying some brand recognition, do not stop the traffic in New York, Dallas or Chicago. The United players love trips to the States simply because they can enjoy relative anonymity in the malls and sidewalks of major American cities. But despite the gruelling flights, the jetlag and language barriers in the Far East, Sir Alex Ferguson's squad also enjoy the passion and enthusiasm of supporters in Asia. The region matters enormously to the club and their popularity across the Far East enables senior figures to strike the lucrative sponsorship deals that are the envy of their Premier League rivals. Aon's decision to stump up £80m over four years to sponsor United is largely down to the club's standing in Asia. Practically unknown outside their US headquarters, Aon have seen how the AIG brand grew in Asia through their links with United. Asia is where the money is. China, India and Japan matter to Aon and sponsoring United will help propel the company into the consciousness of the region. If United toured the States, their value to Aon would be greatly diminished. Aon's agreement with United officially begins next summer but, with the majority of the club's players likely to be on World Cup duty in South Africa, a low-key tour of Europe is being planned by United, who do not want to risk offending the locals by taking a skeleton squad to the Far East while the big stars rest up after the World Cup. South Africa, United's tour destination in 2006 and 2008, is off the agenda simply because the Rainbow Nation will be 'footballed-out' after the month-long World Cup. But plans are already afoot to return to Asia in 2011 and the scramble to tempt United to play in the region has already started. Vietnam is desperate to host a fixture involving United. Several Indian cities are also pitching for a United visit and Australia is another possibility, with Sydney, Melbourne and Perth aiming to cash in with a United game. But wherever United go, they will be feted like pop stars in every destination.
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