SUZHOU, July 31 — Huge entourages, heavy security and demands for the sort of police protection normally reserved for heads of state — European football teams jetting across Asia leave nothing to chance, but sometimes run into problems anyway.
The money-spinning pre-season tours are a far cry from 30 years ago, when the likes of Manchester United would play friendlies against local sides, or at most hop over to Ireland.
United, now a global brand, sent staff to Shanghai several times ahead of last week’s friendly against Tottenham to ensure that the Hongkou Stadium pitch was up to scratch.
Paris Saint-Germain dispatched a chef ahead of the team’s arrival in each location in Asia to check that the food adheres to the players’ strict pre-season diets.
Security — which usually means keeping away overzealous fans — has been a primary concern for the clubs fanning out across Asia this month.
Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola was accompanied by a beefy member of security as he made the short walk to the team coach inside the bowels of Nanjing Olympic Stadium.
Autograph and selfie-hunters were left empty-handed.
City’s guarded approach — their security detail was never far away — angered China’s state news agency Xinhua, which accused City of an “attitude of arrogance”.
Guardiola retorted: “Maybe one journalist is a little bit upset, I don’t know why, but it’s far away from what is reality.”
When it comes to accommodation for City, United, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and the rest, it is only the best.
Guardiola and his expensively assembled squad — plus dozens of club staff — took over the exclusive, 130-room Banyan Tree hotel in Shanghai.
Rooms at the self-styled “urban retreat in the city’s most scenic location” start at nearly 2,000 yuan a night (RM1,200).
PSG brought a heaving delegation of 120 people for their trip to Shenzhen, Macau and Suzhou, among them eight security personnel with walkie-talkies and at least two cooks in club-crested chef uniforms.
While in the Chinese city of Suzhou for yesterday’s 3-0 win over Sydney FC, PSG pitched up at the deluxe Fairmont Yangcheng Lake hotel.
However, the French champions’ midfielder Julian Draxler said that being holed up in a hotel — no matter how swanky — could be “quite boring”.
Throw in training in fierce heat, and media and commercial duties, and Draxler said it was no holiday.
The 25-year-old German World Cup winner told AFP that he was happy to be in China and meet Chinese fans, but conceded: “Honestly, when we are in pre-season, we see the hotel, the plane, the bus and the pitches.
“It’s not like we go out and try some restaurants or go shopping.”
In China, because of internet restrictions, players have not been able to while away the hours on social media or read news from back home — which Newcastle United’s young goalkeeper Freddie Woodman said was a blessing.
‘Survival’ for Guardiola
The visits — Singapore, Japan, South Korea and Australia were also on some itineraries — are ultimately about creating profits and goodwill, but not every visit has ended well.
According to South Korean media, demands from Juventus to have a police escort — normally reserved for visiting heads of state — were refused.
Juventus arrived at the stadium for an exhibition match in Seoul 15 minutes after kick-off, delaying the game by an hour, after their plane from China landed late.
The Italian champions then riled fans by keeping star attraction Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench. More than 2,000 South Koreans plan to sue the sports agency involved.
There is little teams can do about temperatures touching 40°C, heavy rain, jet lag, traffic and flight delays.
Bad weather saw PSG stuck in Suzhou this morning, while City’s flight to China was delayed by two days because of a paperwork problem.
When they finally arrived, Guardiola hardly looked delighted.
“It’s survival,” he grimaced. — AFP