Milk Cup in a fury at last minute Manchester United pull out
Tournament will go on despite body blow
Furious Milk Cup organisers have embarked on a frantic damage limitation exercise to bolster this year's tournament after the shock late withdrawal of Manchester United's young stars, just two days before the scheduled draw and with only eight weeks to kick-off.
The totally unexpected and unforeseen decision is certain to have financial implications for the Milk Cup in both the short and long term and a series of urgent meetings are planned this week with the organisers, in disaster recovery mode, insisting the show will go on this year and in the future.
It is nevertheless a body blow for the Milk Cup in terms of timing and the way in which the news was delivered with United citing a change in their summer training schedules although it is also thought Old Trafford Academy coaches may have felt the connection had run its course and a change of direction was required.
In a double whammy, United and Northern Ireland rising star Paddy McNair was to have made the draw for this year's July 26-31 event at the Odyssey in Belfast on Tuesday but that has been postponed until a replacement for United can be found.
United's youngsters have been the event's undoubted box office attraction going back over 25 years, famously providing a launching pad for some of their biggest names of all, including Beckham, Giggs, Scholes and the Neville brothers.
Now United have suddenly ended the association, begun by former boss Sir Alex Ferguson, in a brief phone call and that is what has enraged the organisers.
"We are furious," one said.
Senior tournament officials, mindful and appreciative of the special relationship they enjoyed with United down the years, were reluctant to publicly express more than their ‘disappointment’.
But an inside source told the Belfast Telegraph: “To say we are annoyed is an understatement. We are absolutely furious at the way this was done.
“United’s priorities are their prerogative and we fully accept that. We would have been disappointed but would fully have understood if they had informed us from the outset that they would not be coming instead of like this.
“We received confirmation in writing of their entry over two months ago and planning is at an advanced stage. The timing is the biggest kick in the teeth here... but United will be replaced and the Milk Cup will go on. The tournament is bigger than one club and we will demonstrate that.”
The United phone call was followed by a brief statement in which the club explained: “After a thorough assessment of the pre-season training needs of the first team and a detailed assessment of the medical impact of that plan on the reserves, Manchester United has decided not to enter a team in the Dale Farm Milk Cup.”
Tournament chairman Victor Leonard responded: “This decision is a shock to us and will come as a huge blow to the legions of United supporters in the Province who back the club over the week of our event.
“We had written confirmation from them that they would be competing and the fact they have gone back on their word is extremely disappointing.
“We know Paddy McNair was keenly anticipating his role with us on Tuesday but permission for his participation was cancelled. We had invested considerable time and money on the technical aspect of our visual presentation for the draw itself so that needs to be revamped. We are also in the process of finalising another team to replace United.
“Thankfully, we are always oversubscribed in all sections of the event, but it is a matter of ensuring a replacement can put the necessary wheels in motion to compete at short notice with the event now just two months away.”
A financial Plan B will also have to be put into place with United’s absence likely to hit attendances. A United team in the Milk Cup final, and they have appeared in 12, always guaranteed a full house.
Victor acknowledged: “We have enjoyed a great relationship with the managers and staff at Old Trafford over many years, particularly during Sir Alex’s tenure and also his successor David Moyes. We have made several good friends in the Youth Academy in that time who always espoused the importance of the Dale Farm Milk Cup in the development of their players. They too were sympathetic to the strong link to Northern Ireland down the years.
“Sir Alex often spoke about that on his visits to the tournament and indeed supported many of its fundraising events.
“It gives us all a great sense of pride that many United players who competed at our event went on to become successful at the highest levels of the game.
“We remember their first success in the Premier section was in 1991 with a team captained by David Beckham and including Gary Neville, Robbie Savage, Paul Scholes, Keith Gillespie and Nicky Butt. The club’s current assistant manager, Ryan Giggs, also played here.
“We still have an excellent line up for 2015 with all five continents represented and two Spanish clubs, Real Sociedad and Malaga, with us for the first time.”
This year’s Milk Cup begins with the traditional parade of teams through Coleraine on Sunday, July 26, concluding with finals night at Ballymena Showgrounds on Friday, July 31.