Manchester United have withdrawn from the Dale Farm Milk Cup leaving organisers shocked and disappointed.
The Old Trafford outfit have been supporters of the international youth tournament for 25 years with former boss Sir Alex Ferguson an active advocate of the Northern Ireland event which has established a worldwide reputation for excellence.
In a brief statement United said: “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.”
The competition’s six-time Premier champions have a massive following here and tournament chairman Victor Leonard said: “This decision is a shock to us and will come as a huge blow to the legions of United supporters in the Province.
“We had written confirmation from them that they would be competing and the fact they have gone back on their word is extremely disappointing.”
United have dealt the organisers a double blow by withdrawing Northern Ireland international defender Patrick McNair from today’s draw which was due to take place in Belfast. However, because of the lateness of Manchester United’s decision, the event has been postponed but will be staged within the next few weeks.
“We know Paddy was keenly anticipating his role with us on Tuesday but permission for his participation was cancelled,” Victor revealed. “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 just two months away.”
United are one of the most successful clubs in the tournament’s history, appearing in 12 finals. They were initially encouraged to compete by the competition’s co-founder, former Celtic and Northern Ireland international Bertie Peacock, who was a boyhood idol of Glasgow-born Sir Alex, United‘s manager at the time.
“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.”
Victor added: “We are disappointed by United’s decision but we realise that no team is bigger than the competition and we have an excellent line up for 2015 with all five continents represented and two La Liga clubs, Real Sociedad and Malaga, with us for the first time.
“We have prided ourselves in expanding into different parts of the world to broaden the appeal and give our followers the opportunity to watch players from different backgrounds challenge themselves against a variety of playing styles.
“In this respect I believe we will have one of the most exciting and competitive tournaments in years.”