The build-up to the first Manchester derby staged overseas was overshadowed by off‑field events as United’s plane was “lost”, José Mourinho’s press conference descended into farce, and the two managers raised concerns over the surface at Beijing’s National Stadium.
While Mourinho and some of his squad flew from Shanghai to the Chinese capital on Saturday on a separate aircraft that had no issues, a second one with the remainder of the team was diverted to Tianjin, around 70 miles away, on account of bad weather.
Memphis Depay tweeted a video of himself standing near the plane after it had landed, saying: “We are lost somewhere, we had to make a quick landing somewhere … We tried to fly to Beijing but the weather is a little bit bad so we had to land somewhere else.”
The plane eventually arrived in the Chinese capital but Mourinho said this was not ideal preparation for the game on Monday. “The second group was unlucky,” he said. “The plane was not good, they had a storm and had to land in [Tianjin] for about a couple of hours. They sought to come by bus then they got the plane and they arrived in the hotel to have dinner at one o’clock in the morning. The players are good guys. They had a smile on their faces, which is good.”
However, there were further problems when Mourinho’s pre-game press conference on Sunday at the Olympic Sports Village caused farcical scenes after the club’s media department and security staff decided the managed could not hold it in the allotted room.
Mourinho was supposed to speak from 6.30pm at the same location where Pep Guardiola held a briefing at 11.30pm in a stifling room packed with media. Asked why the manager did not do the same as his Manchester City counterpart, a United spokesperson said: “The room was too hot and full.”
This caused disgruntlement among some of the local media, bemusement among senior City figures, and also led to confusion regarding whether Mourinho would field questions at all. After around half an hour he walked outside and did an interview with MUTV, the club’s in-house station, then spoke with a large media contingent near the side of the pitch and as his players waited.
With Joel and Avram Glazer, two of United’s owners, present for the training session that was to follow, Mourinho was nonplussed by the episode and the general disappointing nature of the eight-day tour, which ends after the City match.
“I know, but that’s what we have,” he said, before pointing to the perilous state of the Bird’s Nest stadium’s pitch and on which fungus has been discovered. “We cannot just run away and disappear and not play. So we have to play and try to be lucky. Normally when you say lucky it is because you want a good result. The result I want tomorrow is to go home without injuries, and that is the luck I want.”
While City have had their deputy head groundsman, Craig Knight, at the stadium for 10 days to ensure the surface is as safe as possible, there is a chance the game could be cancelled if there is heavy rain.
Mourinho was clear what his overriding priority is if the sides meet. “It’s [near] the end, the last day, the last match and then we can go home and train in good conditions, conditions where the players feel good and safe and bring their concentration and intensity to higher levels again,” he said. “Just hopefully [in training on Sunday] we do nothing and wish no problems in the match and everyone goes home without injuries. If we manage to do that, then that’s fine.”
Guardiola agreed. “No injuries,” he said. “We didn’t see the pitch but there is a lot of water in the last days so we understand it’s not in a good condition but OK, we’re going to adapt and adjust. It’s our second game of preparation – the most important thing is that the players are not going to be injured.
“We know the humidity for the training is not ideal, but we also know that it’s so important to come here to know the people. We don’t want to expend too much energy in training because of the humidity but we stay here, we play, and then go back to Manchester for two more weeks of preparation before the first official game.”
Mourinho and Guardiola brushed off the question of whether they would shake hands beforehand because of the fractious nature of their rivalry when formerly in charge of Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively. Guardiola said: “We are polite guys – why not? Why should we not shake hands? No reason why.”
Mourinho said: “To qualify the question I would use some unpolite words. Of course I shake his hand. Why shouldn’t we? I don’t understand the question to him and I don’t understand the question to myself. We worked together in Barcelona for three years, we were opponents in other clubs but we are just professionals and we have a normal relations.”
The organisers of the International Champions Cup, which includes the derby, claimed on Sunday that 50,000 tickets of the 60,000 capacity were sold despite prices ranging from £60-200.