Man United faces its "hysterical" East Asians fans

Jonathan Northcroft observes East Asian "hysteria" for Manchester United in The Sunday Times (extracts):

Ronaldo is a marketing-man’s dream: Ronaldinho with good looks. With the similar, cartoon-like quality of their ball skills, the Portuguese appears to capture the same imaginations as the Brazilian; in this part of the world young Asians emerging from previously regimented societies, chasing fun, keen on seeing individualism asserted.

Japan, with its distinctive J-League, is a more mature football market than neighbouring countries and the 56,000 fans packing the Saitama stadium on Monday were there largely to support their own team, Urawa Red Diamonds, rather than worship a visiting foreign entity. Some even gave United stick, but when Ronaldo took possession there was suddenly a galaxy of twinkling camera lights in the stands and screeched exhortations for stepovers.

Korean football is also established but its fans embrace foreign teams. Ji-Sung Park may have exaggerated when he said “for Korean people, United are the best club in the world, everyone supports them,” but not by much. The estimate is that 75% do.

In a hysterical World Cup stadium in Seoul, Ronaldo went down like Elvis in boots. Scoring one goal, making two, he did enough to win man-of-the-match by half-time and spent the second 45 minutes on the bench. Every time the big screen showed the United dugout there was a cacophony when Park was seen and an even greater one when a certain baseball cap and diamond earrings came into to view. Ronaldo loved it, and favoured the cameras with smiles and thumbs-ups.

With the weight of Nike campaign already behind him, he is well placed to make himself into a brand. For United, his rise is a fillip as the Glazer family seeks to expand business. Sir Alex Ferguson noted this is his fifth Far East tour and experience helps United understand better than any other club how to do these things. The games are showcases but offstage there have been a range of activities designed to show United’s commitment to this part of the world is sincere: visits to orphanages, signing sessions for children, coaching clinics and the launch of Japanese, Korean and Chinese language versions of United’s website.

Ferguson has become an old hand at flattering locals without having to be false. In Seoul, he praised South Korea for its exploits in the 2002 World Cup, in Tokyo he lauded the Japanese for leading the development of the Asian game ...

After the success of Guus Hiddink with their national team, the grey-haired boss figure is something Koreans can cherish and Ferguson was also treated like a movie star, mobbed at the Shilla and attracting screams when his face filled the stadium screen. On the United bus one fan scrawled: “Ferguson! Hand made chocolate.” Quite what that meant was unclear ...

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