SINGAPORE – In the space of nine months, five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo could be set for his third reunion with his former club Manchester United.
After their Champions League meetings last October and November, the latest encounter could take place when the International Champions Cup (ICC) swings by Singapore in July.
This year’s ICC in Singapore is set to take place at the National Stadium over the July 19-21 weekend and will feature four teams – one more than in the last two years – and two games instead of three like in previous years.
Sources tell The Straits Times that English giants Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur are all but confirmed to visit the Republic.
United will play two games in Perth on July 13 and 17 first, while Spurs will announce their tour of Asia next week.
When ST was at White Hart Lane last month, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino said: “We are looking to try… It is an option we like a lot and we would love to go. I think the percentage is high to be (in Asia) and meet you there.”
It is understood that negotiations are ongoing to add Italy’s Juventus and Inter Milan to the line-up.
The first edition in 2017 saw Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Inter grace the pitch of the National Stadium. Last year, it was Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain and Atletico Madrid.
Although the fixtures will only be confirmed on March 27, the new arrangement means that the four teams do not need to take a break between matches and the weekend scheduling should attract more fans to the stadium here.
With the absence of a World Cup or European Championship this summer, it is hoped that top stars such as United’s David de Gea, Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford, Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, Inter’s Ivan Perisic and Juventus’ Ronaldo will join their teams here.
Alan Chua, a 35-year-old businessman who supports United and idolises Ronaldo, said: “I went to watch United beat a Singapore selection side 8-1 at the old National Stadium as a teenager in 2001. It would be a dream come true if both the Red Devils and Ronaldo come back this year.”
While Ronaldo has never played in Singapore, he is no stranger to the Republic, having visited in 2013 and 2017.
Tottenham were last here in 1995, when they beat Singapore 4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw, while Juventus beat a Singapore selection side 5-0 in the first football match held at the new National Stadium in 2014.
James Walton, sports business group leader at Deloitte Singapore and South-east Asia, said: “Realistically, the two EPL clubs that can really sell out the National Stadium are Manchester United and Liverpool.
“United would be far and away the biggest draw and a real coup for the ICC if they can get them here.
“Pre-season tours are often determined by factors like where the clubs’ marketing emphasis is. In recent years, United, Spurs and Manchester City spent most of their pre-season in the United States, while Arsenal and Chelsea have been more willing to go to Asia.
“The ICC format varies from location to location. In the US, for example, it is a league format and, in Singapore, it was a mini league before. In some cases, it is one-off games. It varies depending on the availability of the stadium, the travel plans and requirements of the teams and what they are willing and available to do.
“Having four teams instead of three, with some of the names on the table, is quite interesting. In previous years, there is always one game with a slightly weaker attendance, and it is usually the one without an EPL team,
“Hopefully, if we can have an exciting EPL team in each game, like United and Tottenham with their well-known players who will attract a fan base, combined with big European teams like Inter or Juventus or PSG, I believe both games will see significant attendances.
“From that point of view and in terms of experience, one fewer game need not be a bad thing.”
A spokesman for organisers Relevent could only confirm that the ICC matches here will take place in July and more information will be announced in March.
She added: “We are excited about the progress we are making in the planning of 2019 ICC Singapore, which will feature some of biggest and most successful clubs in the world.”