Manchester United’s pre-season US tour ended on a losing note here Wednesday as French giants Paris Saint-Germain claimed a 2-0 victory to clinch the International Champions Cup exhibition tournament.
First-half goals from Blaise Matuidi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were enough to give the Ligue 1 side the win on a sweltering evening at Chicago’s iconic Soldier Field stadium, home of the NFL Chicago Bears.
United had been aiming to maintain their 100 percent record after registering wins over Club America, San Jose Earthquakes and European champions Barcelona in their three previous games.
However, the English Premier League giants were undone by two goals from PSG which highlighted the defensive frailty of Louis van Gaal’s squad, which has been bolstered by several high-profile signings this summer.
— PSG Officiel (@PSG_inside) July 30, 2015
United began promisingly, stroking the ball around comfortably and probing for openings against the Parisian defenders.
The Red Devils got the ball in the net after 22 minutes when Juan Mata prodded home Daley Blind’s exquisite through ball, only for it to be ruled offside.
But three minutes later, PSG struck at the other end when a long ball forward caused havoc in United’s defensive unit.
French international Matuidi raced forward and got between Luke Shaw and Phil Jones to toe-poke home past the onrushing David De Gea to make it 1-0.
PSG doubled their lead nine minutes later with a well-worked goal that came all too easily for the French champions.
Ibrahimovic picked up the ball in midfield and released Maxwell down the left flank.
The Brazilian fullback advanced and then calmly picked out Ibrahimovic with the return pass for the Swedish star to slot past De Gea.
The build-up to the match had been dominated by speculation surrounding United’s unsettled Argentine star Angel Di Maria, who is expected to complete a move to PSG imminently.
An English footballer abroad now seems as rare a prospect as international success for the sorry Three Lions. The sport’s great importers of talent generally make lousy and unwilling exports.
In contrast, success for nations such as Brazil, France, Argentina and now even World Cup-holders Germany has been built to varying degrees on the benefits provided when players broaden their horizons.
Trapped by either the riches of the Premier League or myopia, such moves rarely occur. Celebrated midfielders Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard both belatedly took the plunge this summer to Major League Soccer sides Los Angeles Galaxy and New York City, though this was for one final pay day before retirement.
But you do not have to look too far back in the history books to see England stars in their prime plying their trade on foreign shores.
Italy fell in love with Paul Gascoigne in the early 1990s at Lazio, Chris Waddle won the UEFA Champions League with Marseille in 1991 and Gary Lineker scored an El Clasico hat-trick for Barcelona against bitter rivals Real Madrid in 1987.
Liverpool legend Steve McManaman was one of the last high-profile departees, embracing Spanish culture and tasting double Champions League-success as a beguiling winger with Los Blancos from 1999-2003. Speaking to Sport360, he hailed the benefits of making such a transfer.
He said: “Sometimes, the league is too good here in England, the money is good as well so there is no desire to move abroad.
“Players get looked after well in England, the wives and kids are in good schools and when all that is part of the mix, you want to stay if you can.
“I had a wonderful time in Spain, it broadened my horizons. I still have a house there now, I can speak Spanish and I wouldn’t change that experience for a second.”
McManaman’s controversial Bosman free transfer saw him swap narrow misses with hometown club Liverpool for serial success at Santiago Bernabeu.
Eight trophies were swept up in four years, his crowning achievement a spectacular volley during the 3-0 thrashing of Valencia in the 1999/2000 Champions League final.
The now 43-year-old dropped in and out of favour, often a victim of the ‘Galacticos’ policy which brought in Luis Figo and countryman David Beckham. But he was hailed by head coach Vicente Del Bosque for his ability to bond an often-fractured squad together.
McManaman urged his compatriots to follow in his footsteps, swapping fat Premier League wage packets for new experiences.
He said: “Your career is all about winning things. It is important for me to look back and say I won the Champions League and I scored in the final.
“You don’t want to get to the end of your career and say ‘Look at me, I finished fourth in the Premier League 15 times and I’m a wealthy man’. That is not success – you want to succeed as a sportsman, not just in your bank account.
“When you can say you are a member of the best team in the world, which I was on the two occasions I won in 2000 and 2002, that is something pretty special. Playing for Real Madrid was an incredible experience and I would encourage any English player to play abroad if they get the chance.”
McManaman bid his farewell to the Spanish capital to return to the English top flight with Manchester City, hanging up his boots a decade ago. He has since developed a successful media career, being a leading pundit for BT Sport’s Premier League and Champions League coverage.
He said: “[Retirement] was not such a big deal for me because I took a couple of years away from the game, my wife and I had kids and just disappeared for a while.
“That is how I dealt with ending my career. I have come back into the game with the BT Sport work now.”
The introduction of BT Sport into the British media landscape has seen a sea-change, heavyweights Sky Sports losing the broadcasting rights to Europe’s premier club competition to the ambitious usurpers. An £897m (Dh5.15bn) three-year deal kicks in during 2015-16, following a disastrous English campaign which saw no side progress into the quarter-finals.
People are mocking Phil Neville but are first to complain English players/coaches don’t go abroad often enough. Brave move, good luck 2 him.
— Paul O Keefe (@pokeefe1) June 28, 2015
“The English teams haven’t been good enough, it’s as simple as that,” McManaman said. “We have good teams here who might win the Premier League, but they are not a patch on the teams we saw in the latter stages of the Champions League.
“Everyone wants to play like Barcelona or Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. They play a style of football that is exciting to watch, they create hundreds of chances and score hundreds of goals.
“We had no teams in the last eight this season and I would argue that was just a blip. Chelsea and Arsenal should have gone through, but they were pushed out of the competition for one reason or another.
“Were Monaco a better team than Arsenal? I don’t think so. It was also a big shock to see Chelsea lose to PSG when they had the game at their mercy. The gap can be closed by the English clubs, of course it can.”
BT Sport is the exclusive UK home of the Champions League and Europa League from 2015/16
Real Madrid prepared for their match against AC Milan in Shanghai with training on Wednesday.