Today, in European soccer’s elite Champion’s League competition, the current champions Real Madrid will be in action. So will Liverpool, which has won the European Cup five times. And Arsenal and Juventus and more. But among the boldfaced names, one is missing.
Manchester United failed to qualify for this year’s Champion’s League for the first time since 1990 because of a disastrous season last year. And because of a poor start to this one, the Reds generally have only one game a week for most of this season. So what to do? The team is considering playing exhibition games (otherwise known as ‘friendlies’) during the week. “That’s something we continue to look at, as always making sure that the preparations we do on the pitch come first,” Man United’s managing director Richard Arnold said.
That means, for the right price, you could one day see players like Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao performing tricks at children’s birthday parties and dazzling the suits at corporate shindigs, much in the same way some of the world’s biggest rock bands play private gigs purely for the cash.
Or more likely, Arnold suggested, Man United will play friendlies in the Middle East and escape the English winter. The reasons for risking jetlag and injury to your squad are of course financial in nature; after reporting record revenues of £433 million ($702 million) for 2014, the club warned that the absence of European competition this year could cut revenue by around 10%. The 20-time English champions have a good track record of generating money overseas. They pulled in £8 million from four games during a pre-season US tour this summer in which 360,000 fans saw their matches.
So for the owners, playing a Qatari club in the middle of freezing February has a dual purpose. Not only do friendlies boost income, they keep players who are being paid enormous sums of money (Falcao is reportedly on $430,000 a week) occupied while their peers at Real Madrid and Liverpool chase glory.