BANGKOK, Thailand, July 11 – Hundreds of cheering fans gave Manchester United a stirring welcome Thursday as the English champions jetted into Thailand at the start of a flurry of Asian tours by top European clubs.
Spectators were out in force as the superstar squad, wearing suits with trainers, arrived by chartered jet at Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport, where new manager David Moyes performed a traditional Thai greeting.
The players then boarded a huge bus emblazoned with the words “United in Thailand” and drove to their five-star downtown hotel, where they were welcomed by more fans holding banners and scarves.
Moyes and United great Ryan Giggs were also mobbed during a visit to Siriraj hospital, where they paid their respects and brought a big bunch of flowers for Thailand’s revered king and queen, who are both unwell.
England striker Wayne Rooney, at the centre of intense speculation about his future, walked with his head down and did not talk to media as he arrived with his team-mates.
“It’s crazy whenever we visit this part of the world,” defender Rio Ferdinand told the club’s website. “The reception we get in the Asian countries is something else entirely. I’ve never seen fanatics like them.
“They come to airports at mad times in the morning to greet us, they hang around our hotels… it’s great and makes us feel really welcome.”
Manchester United are the first to arrive in what will be a bumper Asian pre-season, with Chelsea also due in Bangkok this week and Barcelona, Manchester City and Liverpool among the other clubs headed to the region.
Moyes, taking over after Alex Ferguson’s 27-year, 38-trophy career at the club, will lead out the team for the first time against a Thai All-Star XI in Bangkok on Saturday.
Captain Nemanja Vidic stayed in Manchester because of back pain, but he may join the 19-man squad later on the tour of Thailand, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong, according to the club website.
Robin van Persie, David De Gea and Shinji Kagawa will also meet up with the team later but Javier Hernandez, rested after international duty, and injured trio Chris Smalling, Ashley Young and Nani are all missing.
Exciting new signing Wilfried Zaha is one prominent inclusion and veteran defender Ferdinand said all players were keen to make an early impression on the new boss.
“I think it’s natural that everybody here is trying to impress on this tour,” he said.
“When you get a new manager you want to show him that you should be in the starting XI for that first day of the new season and that process has started already.”
But the tours are likely to be dominated by transfer talk with British media reporting that Chelsea, who arrive in Bangkok on Friday, are preparing a major bid for Rooney.
However, Moyes has signalled his determination to keep the striker, who asked for a transfer in May, by describing his concerted effort to win over the want-away star.
“I have met Wayne two, three, four times,” Moyes, who coached Rooney when they were both at Everton, told Britain’s talkSPORT radio.
“A lot has been said about myself and Wayne over the years but we have a really good relationship. He came to my house, I have been to his recently to have a chat.”
Moyes, who looks set to lose out on a bid to sign Barcelona midfielder Thiago Alcantara, also insisted the club were “working hard” to buy new players as they seek to defend their Premier League title.
Chelsea will also play their first game under returning manager Jose Mourinho in Bangkok next week, while Manchester City will be under new boss Manuel Pellegrini when they play a mini-tournament in Hong Kong.
Barcelona and Liverpool are also among the visitors in the coming weeks to a region which comprises the bulk of the world’s population and contributes growing revenues to top clubs via TV rights and merchandise.