* Manchester United
Malaysian fans mob Manchester United
Michael Owen trains with Manchester United in Kuala Lumpur
The men who did not travel with Manchester United sparked the greatest interest today at the start of the club’s tour, which was thrown into chaos before it had begun by the bombings in Jakarta.
The loss of Cristiano Ronaldo, the greatest marketing tool the club has possessed since David Beckham’s departure for Real Madrid, made little difference to the hundreds of supporters who flowed into the team hotel for autograph opportunities and question-and-answer sessions, or the thousands who watched them train at the Bukit Jalil stadium, where United open their Asian tour tomorrow.
As Sir Alex Ferguson tried to articulate his confidence that Wayne Rooney would shoulder the burden after Ronaldo’s departure “because those are the expectations he has for himself”, the manager was drowned out by screams from the floor below, a sign that the players had entered the building.
Neither Antonio Valencia, who has had to return to Ecuador to sort out a visa, nor Nemanja Vidic, who is still recovering from a knee injury sustained while playing for Serbia, made the 12-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur. However, Owen Hargreaves’s return will be the most keenly anticipated, with Ferguson predicting he might be ready for first-team football in two months’ time.
The midfielder, who cost £17m when he joined from Bayern Munich, has not kicked a ball in anger since the 1-1 draw at Chelsea in September last year. Since then, in an attempt to cure a persistent tendinitis problem, he has undergone surgery on both knees.
“He is completing his rehabilitation in America and I have no doubt that his having the operation was the right thing to do,” Ferguson said. “He will join us when the tour reaches Munich at the end of the month. At that point he will not be ready to play football but he will be ready to take part in football training.
“We are happy with his rehabilitation, although getting him back to full football training may take a few weeks, depending on how he reacts. A conservative estimate is that he would be ready in the second week of September.” That would mean that the earliest one of the few successes of the 2006 World Cup campaign could be considered by Fabio Capello would be the October qualifiers away to Ukraine and against Belarus at Wembley.
Ferguson revealed he had made a final pre-season addition to Manchester United’s squad by signing the Senegal Under-21 striker Mame Biram Diouf, from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s former club, Molde. Diouf scored 23 goals in a little over 50 appearances for the Norwegian side. He will be loaned back to Molde and come to Old Trafford in January.
“We had been looking at him for two years now,” Ferguson said. “I said last week that we would not be signing anyone else because we have a big squad 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.” Among those clubs were Steve McClaren’s Twente Enschede and another Dutch side, Groningen.
United have confirmed the sale of the Angolan striker Manucho to Real Valladolid. Manucho, who had spells on loan with Panathinaikos and Hull City, never looked like becoming a regular at Old Trafford.