United promise memorable match despite absent stars
Manchester United chairman Martin Edwards defended the absence of three star players who are staying away from tomorrow's eagerly anticipated Marlboro Cup, saying the reigning English Premier League champions had still come here with a 'very strong team'.
Responding to questions raised during a packed news conference concerning the absence of stars Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Gary Neville, Edwards said there were still 15 internationals from the 20-strong squad in the territory and that it was 'rare' to get a team playing at full strength at any given time.
The squad still have a top-class look with all the other star players arriving in the territory yesterday.
The squad includes goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, defenders Philip Neville, Denis Irwin, Gary Pallister, Nicky Butt, David May and Ronny Johnsen, midfielders Roy Keane, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Brian McClair, Karel Poborsky and Jordi Cruyff and forwards Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham.
'There are always suspensions and injuries which makes it difficult to play with a full-strength side all the time,' said Edwards.
'You only have to look around to see the quality of our squad. We believe we are a strong squad and I'm sure we will entertain the 40,000 spectators.' He added: 'Under the conditions, the three couldn't come here. Ryan Giggs was injured while the other two players needed a bit of rest.' The English Premier League giants received a rousing welcome from a crowd of about 100 at Kai Tak Airport, although it was far less than the 1,000 fans who mobbed the team on their arrival in Bangkok on Wednesday where United played the first game of their Asian tour, winning 2-0.
United manager Alex Ferguson promised a better performance than Bangkok - a game which attracted a capacity crowd of 25,000 - when they take on Hong Kong league champions South China before a sell-out crowd at the Hong Kong Stadium.
'We'll be better than our last game. The first game is always the hardest. Some of the players needed to adapt. We expect to attack. We won't disappoint you,' said Ferguson.
The club boss said it was United's intention to have a programme of seven matches before the start of the season and that their Asian tour was part of the team's build-up.
He said it was tough for any player to break into the first team and even tougher for young players, although former United player Norman Whiteside and Ryan Giggs had done so at a very young age - Giggs was just 16 - after developing the proper temperament.
The third most successful manager in English soccer history was convinced that United would be a force again next season even though they will be without former captain and influential French midfielder Eric Cantona, who stunned English soccer by announcing his retirement in May.
'It's been a great era with four league championships and two cups [with Cantona]. We still got to prove ourselves,' said Ferguson.
'We still have the nucleus of the team [who won the English Premier League] and with Teddy [Sheringham], hopefully we'll do better.
'We're a very strong squad. Eric had done very well for us but life goes on,' said Ferguson, who added that the team were capable of performing better in the European Cup in which they reached the semi-finals last season.
Ferguson was overawed by the team's warm welcome in Bangkok and promised to return to Thailand in two years.