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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 17 August 2018

Jose Mourinho enigmatic on Antony Martial's future as Manchester United play out stalemate with San Jose Earthquakes

Second successive draw for United on their pre-season United States tour ends with manager hinting his French striker will not leave the club 

Manchester United are not used to playing matches in stadiums where most of the seats are unoccupied.

But on Sunday in Santa Clara, a crowd of less than half the stadium’s 68,500 capacity watched a goalless pre-season friendly against MLS side San Jose Earthquakes.

The attendance in the Levi’s Stadium was given as 32,549 for the second of United’s five American games, but looked significantly lower.

Those who stayed away – and 68,416 saw United beat Barcelona is the same stadium three years ago – did not miss much in a soporific stalemate.

Speaking after the game, manager Jose Mourinho described the post World Cup finals pre-season as “strange”.

“For me is a very strange pre-season,” opinined United’s manager. “How many of these players are going to play the majority of the games in the

Premier League? Not one hand of them, it’s a bit strange for me.

“Pre-season, you try to be motivated and motivate the people around you but is not easy. I did some pre-season with some players but to have 10 players away is very strange. The motivation is to try to train the best we can, to give the players minutes, to give young players an opportunity to develop and that is it.”

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An United side featuring players who had missed out on their national World Cup squads including Antony Martial, Chris Smalling, Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw was was supplemented by Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly and Alexis Sanchez, all who saw their national teams miss out on the finals in Russia.

There was also space for youngsters Tahith Chong, 18, and James Garner, 17 in the line-up.

After resolving a visa issue, Sanchez arrived in the United States and started on the left, with Martial as the central striker and Chong on the right.

Sanchez can be one of the few players satisfied with his performance until he was replaced by 16-year-old Mason Greenwood after an hour.

While the empty seats were not a good look, there are reasons for the apparent apathy.

It was United fourth visit to the area in five years and struggling San Jose Earthquakes are not Barcelona or Real Madrid, who United played a

year ago.

Ticket prices were reduced to as low at US$15 (Dh55), but San Jose have won only won two of their 18 league games all season and with matches this week against Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake, the local side started with only three of their regular first teamers.

United are far from being at full strength and sitting in the searing summer afternoon heat is not for everyone.

The Levi’s Stadium, a corporate behemoth amid Silicon Valley, is hard to reach by public transport and charges a minimum of $25 for

parking.

That is expensive for an unimportant friendly match where fans were urged to ‘Make Noise!’ by the giant scoreboards.

There were other competitive sporting options around San Francisco over the weekend from the Rugby World Cup Sevens, plus the Bay Bridge Major League Baseball series between the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants.

Crowds are also lower across the board for the other European teams playing their pre-season in

the United States at present and a better fit would have been San Jose’s own 18,000 capacity stadium, but crowds are expected to significantly improve for United’s three remaining American games.

Wednesday’s game against AC Milan in Los Angeles is a sell-out, before United play Liverpool in the 107,000 capacity Michigan Stadium on

Saturday. The final game of the tour is against Real Madrid in Miami on July 31.

Meanwhile, United are understood to have no current interest in the Juventus full-back Alex Sandro or Tottenham Hotspur’s central defender Toby Alderweireld, two players they have been strongly linked with.

Asked about signings before the August 9 deadline, Mourinho said: “One thing is what I want and another thing is what is going to happen.”

The future of Martial is also uncertain but United have long been determined not to sell the French attacker and when asked of Martial’s

desire to leave, Mourinho said: “I would like to be in Los Angeles now and I am in San Jose.

"You cannot do whatever you want in life. I would love to arrive in LA, to train in LA. and play all my five matches in LA, and then don’t travel, don’t change hotel and then go back to Manchester.

“I would like to play against Leicester (on the opening weekend of the Premier League season) on Sunday but I have to play on Friday, so you don't get always in life what you want.”

Mourinho will be happier now he’s back in LA ahead of Wednesday’s next game, but his players need to put in far better performances than the

opening two games of their US tour if they are to raise spirits among fans.

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