Manchester United are in the United States for two reasons.
One, Jose Mourinho wants to be here. And two, the club’s commercial department wants to be here.
The second one was also true last summer when United toured China. But the first one, not so much.
As United rolled into Los Angeles on Sunday evening, Mourinho was said to be in a positive mood. It’s easy to see why. After he had no control over last year’s China trip, this one has been put together to please the Portuguese coach.
Last year, Mourinho complained about the condition of the training pitches in Shanghai and Beijing. This time, his players are on pristine surfaces at Drake Stadium on the UCLA campus.
They have got everything they need to prepare for the new season — something that was not always true in China — including an outdoor pool just a few feet from the training pitches in case it gets too hot.
There was a feeling inside Old Trafford last season that the botched tour of China, which saw the game with Manchester City in Beijing cancelled, had cost United as many as six points in the league.
There can be no excuses this time.
If United and Mourinho need any reassurance that they have made the right choice, they need only look over the fence. While United’s training pitches are surrounded by hoardings advertising their sponsors, the adjacent ones are surrounded by Real Madrid logos. The European champions are also in L.A. this week.
In different circumstances, David De Gea and Alvaro Morata might have been on different sides of the barriers. United are also looking to make new friends here.
Even at 9 a.m. on a Monday, the players were greeted at UCLA by fans who had battled through the L.A. traffic to see them.
Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba obliged with a few photos. Hundreds of supporters waited patiently in the heat for the training session to finish to catch another glimpse.
This is the third time in four years United have toured the U.S. and it’s no coincidence. Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has told investors more than once that the U.S. is a key market for them to conquer.
The more fans they can get on this side of the Atlantic, the better for the business. In turn, that means more sponsorship deals, more money and more players like Pogba and Lukaku arriving.
The club hope one day that some of those players will be American.
U.S. internationals Tim Howard and Jonathan Spector have already turned out for United while defender Matthew Olosunde, from New Jersey, is currently in the academy.
But there is a realisation that the United States turns out a lot of stellar athletes and, as soccer grows, many of them will turn out to be very good footballers.
A group of United officials was in North Carolina in June to get a feel for the standard of youth football.
United scour the world for the best players. And if they can catch them before anyone else, then all the better.
Nicky Butt has overseen an overhaul of the youth scouting system since taking over as head of the academy 18 months ago and North America is on his list of targets.
On Monday at UCLA, United’s first team was training about 200 yards away from a soccer clinic for local kids. Some were wearing Lionel Messi Barcelona shirts or Real Madrid tops with Cristiano Ronaldo emblazoned on the back. But many were already wearing United shirts, some of them in the brand-new kit that was released just a few weeks ago.
United are already winning the battle to conquer the U.S.