Manchester United will head to Japan in July to play at the Nissan Stadium in Shin-Yokohama.
The July 23 friendly against Yokohama F Marinos will – at least many Japanese fans will hope – offer an opportunity for Shinji Kagawa to strut his stuff on these shores, for the first time in club colours since he left Cerezo Osaka in 2010 to join Borussia Dortmund. It will also be the first time in five years United have played a game in Japan (though they did hold training sessions for fans to watch here in 2012).
It is no surprise these days to hear of a European giant touring Asia as part of a huge commercial tour – shirt sales boosts will not be the only thing lining the coffers as United’s fans in this part of the world get chance to be closer to the action. This is still seen as something of a coup for Japanese football, though, and should add an interesting option for fans of top-class football in this part of the world – ticket prices permitting! We also await with interest news over whether megastars such as Wayne Rooney will indeed be on the plane after a grueling season…
Manchester United currently top the Premier League and look set to take their 12th title since the league’s inception in 1992 – at the time of writing they lead rivals, last year’s champions Manchester City, by nine points with 13 games remaining. They are in many places seen as the biggest team in the world, with Barcelona and Real Madrid perhaps the only clubs that come even close to having as many supporters in Asia.
United are in fact estimated to have between 300 and 350 million fans worldwide but the Stadium in Yokohama holds just 72,000; incredibly, even Old Trafford, their home ground, which holds around 75,000, could only hold 0.0002% of their fans! Not that that matters – supporters clubs worldwide exist to harvest the cash of those that can afford it and hold fans loyal to a brand. As traditionalists we do hope a football club – however big/rich your team is! – will offer you more than simply a commercial relationship.
Main image: United mascot circles the pitch as part of a similar game in Shanghai in July 2012 (DvYang/Flickr)