English Premier League club Manchester United has officially announced the cancellation of the controversial Malaysian leg of its 2007 Eastern Asian commercial tour, stating on its website that as it "has not been possible to resolve the difficulties over the proposed game in Malaysia on 27 July" the club "is currently considering a number of options and will make an announcement as quickly as possible on any alternative arrangements."
As MU's CEO, David Gill, explained on 1 June: "It is very frustrating that the club was not previously aware of the legally binding contract between the Asian Football Confederation and the Football Association of Malaysia preventing such games in July. The club believed that all the relevant permissions for the match had been secured some months ago. Manchester United has no desire to go against the wishes of the world governing body, FIFA, and as a result, reluctantly has to withdraw from the fixture. I have written to [Malaysian] Ministers and the Crown Prince to express our disappointment. I hope that the strong relationship that has been established between the club and the Malaysian Government and people will continue and that we will be able to return in more agreeable circumstances in the future."
The communications failure outlined by Gill is astonishing.
In September last year the AFC wrote to English Premier League Chairman Sir Dave Richards requesting the EPL's "understanding" to avoid MU's proposed 2007 Asian tour from clashing with the Asian Cup scheduled for 7-29 July. In November 2006, the AFC publicly warned Malaysia not to let a MU tour in 2007 which would include a game in Kuala Lumpur affect the continent's flagship Asian Cup tournament. In April this year, following confirmation that the MU tour would clash with the Asian Cup, AFC publicly reminded FAM that it had signed a contract to host an Asian Cup group stage and semi-final in which it is clearly stated that FAM cannot sanction or promote any other footballing event during the Asian Cup. Shortly after, an official of a neighbouring Football Association told media that the AFC had been conducting "behind-the-scenes" negotiations with the parties for months to work things out.
On 6 May, at its well-reported congress, the AFC announced publicly that the MU tour "in direct conflict" with the Asian Cup and if the Kuala Lumpur match went ahead it would breach FAM's Organising Association Agreement. Joseph S Blatter the President of the world football body FIFA publicly told MU to move its tour dates. On 15 May the FAM Vice President publicly confirmed that his organisation had a "binding contract" regarding the Asian Cup.
All of this information and more should have been expected to make its timely way to MU officials at Old Trafford, at least through media reports if not via the club's Asian marketing office or the official tour operators, ProEvents. But it wasn't until Premier League Chairman Richards and MU CEO Gill arrived in Kulala Lumpur on 23 May and met AFC President Bin Hammam that MU would announce that "new information" had suddenly come to its attention "concerning the FAM’s agreement with the AFC to act as host for the Asian Cup, which means the club cannot play the game without the official approval of the AFC."
Rivals Chelsea FC opined: "we're not going to take our club to Asia when the Asian Cup is taking place." Barcelona accused MU of "only thinking of its Asian supporters" when it arranged its tour and added, "but we have to respect the local leagues. We will learn from Manchester United's experience and avoid doing the same."
But MU's vision seemingly remains elsewhere.
MU is reportedly exploring the possibility of replacing the AFC Cup-clashing Malaysian game with a friendly in China ... although commentators believe arranging such a fixture at such short notice "could be tricky".