Jose Mourinho prepares a fresh squad strengthened by arrivals of high-profile players.
Expectations high again as Mourinho's Manchester United kick off US tour
The last time Jose Mourinho spoke to journalists, he was all smiles, winks and hugs. Perhaps he was relieved to have survived the impact of his delirious teenage son, who got past security before jumping on his father, bringing him to the ground after Manchester United had won the Europa League in Stockholm.
The Portuguese’s risky gamble on winning that competition to reach the Uefa Champions League paid off, but he knows that another sixth-place league finish will not be considered good enough when the new Premier League season begins next month.
When he took the United job a little more than a year ago, he spoke about intending to win titles immediately, yet while fans thought he meant Premier League titles, he knew that was a stretch and that his squad, scarred by the anti-football of the Louis van Gaal era, was well behind domestic rivals.
Secondary, but worthy, titles did come – a Community Shield, League Cup and Europa League. They sufficed and made his first season a successful one, but when he speaks to the media for the first time this season on Friday in Los Angeles, he knows expectations are now higher.
United will hold their final training session on Friday before the first pre-season game against Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday night (6am UAE time on Sunday), then Mourinho will talk to the media.
He is sure to be asked about transfer targets. A year ago in Shanghai, he spoke confidently after three of the four players he had identified had already been signed and a fourth, Paul Pogba, was on his way.
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On Friday, Mourinho has two of four players he wants as he builds a team of giants. United are still negotiating to sign a holding midfielder and a versatile player capable of playing wide, with Ivan Perisic and Nemanja Matic two of the players fancied by Mourinho.
United have been training at UCLA’s Drake Stadium, with its single bank of 11,000 bleacher seats, close to the team hotel in Beverley Hills, Los Angeles. The team arrived on Sunday, with Mourinho insisting on a full week’s training in one location before the first of five friendly games over 12 days.
As in 2015, Real Madrid are also staying in Beverley Hills and also using Drake, a facility far closer to United’s team hotel than Pasadena, where Van Gaal was justifiably unhappy with the two hour drive to training – even with a police escort.
United’s base will remain in LA as they head to Salt Lake City for a game against MLS side Real Salt Lake on Monday, when the temperature is predicted to be 36 degrees.
Watch Manchester United on their US tour
United then take on Manchester City in Houston next Thursday for the first Manchester derby to be staged outside England, before United face Real Madrid in Santa Clara on July 23 – the pair will be seeing a lot of each other since they meet in the European Super Cup on August 8 in Skopje, Macedonia.
United’s final game Stateside is against Barcelona in Washington DC on July 26.
Despite the club’s global popularity, tickets are still on open sale for all seven of United’s pre-season games, with the team playing friendly matches in Oslo and Dublin in the week after returning from America.
Tickets are not cheap for United’s third US tour in four years, even behind the goal in Los Angeles on Saturday, where a seat costs US$147.73 (Dh542.7). One of the cheapest seats for the game against Sampdoria in Dublin is €60 (Dh251) – more than the best regular seat for a Premier League game at Old Trafford.
Tickets for the game in Oslo average €90, another place where United have huge support and which they visit once every five years.
Even though United appear in the biggest stadiums, promoters think they have to justify the high costs because of the team’s significant match fees. That is one way United earn money, but the US offers several advantages.
United are owned by the American Glazer family and many of their key sponsors are American. Club officials, who are expected to be joined by Ed Woodward over the weekend, can meet sponsors and continue the push of the club’s official media channels in a market where consumers are more likely to pay for content than in some of the other markets where United are hugely popular.
Mourinho, like many of his players who choose to holiday in in Los Angeles, likes the city and the training facilities are considered excellent. Although football is increasing in popularity in America and United’s tour bus carries the ‘UNMISSABLE’ slogan, players can be largely anonymous to enjoy whatever free time they are offered.
The players have welcomed their new teammates, striker Romelu Lukaku and defender Victor Lindelof, while Andreas Pereira has returned from a year’s loan at Granada.
Adnan Januzaj, another promising youngster, has moved to Real Sociedad in a £9.8 million (Dh46.4m) deal.
Other players are expected to depart and arrive, but United go into their first pre-tour game with a fresh squad the majority of whose members have not participated in any other energy-sapping tournaments.