Manchester United are set to return to the United States for their pre-season tour this summer but the decision to include San Diego on the itinerary is a subtle demonstration of support for Erik ten Hag.
United are expected to play a first-team friendly in the Snapdragon Stadium, southern California, in July. Samuel Luckhurst (Manchester Evening News) describes the proposed plan as “additional backing” to the Dutch manager.
The club agreed a new sponsorship deal with US technology firm, Qualcomm Snapdragon, earlier in the year, which will see next season’s kit adorned with the Snapdragon logo. The deal is reported to be worth in the region of £60 million a year and will run for a minimum of three years.
As such, the club’s decision to bring their first-team stars to the Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego makes sense as a commercial obligation.
The club had faced off against Wrexham A.F.C. in the same venue last summer, though it was a United team comprised mainly of youth players. Against the more experienced opposition, United’s youngsters fell to a disappointing 3-1 loss.
Speaking after that match, Ten Hag reminded his players that “this is men’s football” and they will have to “learn” from the experience. This uncompromising expectation of high standards and a meticulous approach were themes for the Dutchman throughout the pre-season tour last summer.
Ten Hag was described as employing a “forensic” approach to United’s trip to America.
He poured over every detail of the tour, from aspects as seemingly trivial as the squad’s dress code and which specific player would do which specific media event, to more important decisions like individual nutrition plans and where the team would train.
In previous years, the United entourage had tended to stay in city centres during pre-season tours. The proximity enabled a greater furore to build from the local population, hoping to catch a glimpse of their favourite players.
Last season, however, Ten Hag specifically requested United stay in quieter locations, to ensure they were “able to train and stay away from prying eyes and any intrusion.” One such example was found in San Diego.
Ten Hag’s venue choice was the Estancia La Jolla Hotel and Spa as a base camp for his team. They then held training sessions at the University of California San Diego – a two-minute bus trip from their hotel.
The combination was thought to have worked well and was received positively by the players, who enjoyed the quieter approach. United’s presence in South Carolina was one “kept under wraps.”
When a group of supporters turned up at the University’s grounds, having caught wind of their team’s base for training, they asked a campus employee where the United players were. His response was one of confusion: “A soccer team is here?”
With United set to return to San Diego this summer, they are likely to employ a similar structure to the one established by the Dutch manager last summer; and with doubts continuing to swirl over his long-term future at Old Trafford, the fact the club are seemingly orientating next season’s pre-season tour around his preferences offers a subtle demonstration of support for Ten Hag.