BEIJING, China, July 25 – Manchester United’s showpiece pre-season derby against Manchester City was cancelled just hours before kick-off Monday after recent torrential rain made the Beijing pitch unsafe.
Organisers of the International Challenge Cup tournament, which also features Borussia Dortmund, confirmed the match had been called off because of concerns over player safety.
“The International Champions Cup China, Manchester United v Manchester City match is cancelled due to the extreme weather events in Beijing over a multiple day period,” said a statement by the organisers.
“The Committee and both teams make the decision together in the interest of player safety.”
Both managers, Jose Mourinho of United and Pep Guardiola of City, had told reporters Sunday they were worried about the state of the pitch at the 2008 Olympic venue following flooding in and around the Chinese capital.
“Due to recent weather events, tournament organisers and participating clubs have decided to cancel tonight’s International Champions Cup game,” said a statement jointly issued by City and United.
Mourinho had hinted 24 hours earlier that the match might be called off after training was switched to another ground in a fruitless attempt to preserve the Bird’s Nest turf, which was reported to have been recently partly relaid.
“The pitch and the conditions of my players are more important than results in pre-season. It’s not a problem for me to lose matches in pre-season,” said Mourinho Sunday.
“It is almost the end and we can go home and train in conditions where the players are safe.”
Guardiola was similarly blunt when asked what he wanted from the match. “No injuries,” he replied.
– Final indignity –
It was the final indignity to follow a chaotic weekend in China for Mourinho’s new club after losing 4-1 to Borussia Dortmund Friday night in Shanghai in their opening, and now only, China tour match.
Half of United’s squad were on a plane which had to make a forced landing between Shanghai and Beijing on Saturday because of a violent storm in the capital.
Striker Memphis Depay tweeted a video of himself outside the plane in Tianjin, saying they were “lost in China”. The players eventually made it to the team hotel in Beijing at 1:00 am.
Meanwhile Sunday’s makeshift training venue struggled to cope with the invasion of hundreds of media to cover the teams’ every move.
Mourinho refused to attend a news conference in an overcrowded and stiflingly hot press room, instead holding a bizarre press chat amid a scrum on the running track where he struggled to be heard.
The cancellation means that fans will now have to wait until the English Premier League derby on September 10 for the bitter rivalry between Mourinho and Guardiola to be renewed.
The two coaches became foes while Mourinho was in charge at Real Madrid and Guardiola at Barcelona from 2010.
Flooding is not uncommon during summer in northern China, but rains have been unusually heavy, driving over 300,000 people from their homes. More than 200 people are dead or missing in Hebei province bordering Beijing.
United will now leave Beijing to return to Manchester late on Monday night as originally planned, while City will fly to the southern city of Shenzhen on Tuesday for Thursday’s game against Borussia Dortmund.