When United won the Club World Cup in Japan
In December 2008, we were there every step of the way as United made history by becoming England's first world champions. Here, in a feature from United Review in January 2019, players, staff and fans explain how the trip to Japan provided unforgettable memories...
“You don’t get many chances to play on the world stage and this competition is the hardest of all to win, as you’ve got to win the Champions League to qualify.
“Adjusting to the time difference didn’t make things any easier. I didn’t sleep much, maybe four or five hours a night. You just have to prepare as best you can and hope you feel okay when you get out onto the pitch. Taking all that into account, I thought the lads played very well in both games.
“The semi-final against Gamba Osaka was very open and although we were disappointed to give away sloppy goals late on, we were pleased with our attacking play. It looked like it was going to finish 2-0, but the game really came alive after Wayne came on. He was brilliant throughout the tournament, and when we were down to 10 men in the final he was able to produce that little bit of magic to win the trophy. The funniest bit of the whole trip was seeing his face when he was handed that giant key as man of the match. I was given the same thing back in ’99 when we won the Intercontinental Cup, but this time Wayne also got a massive padded bag to keep the key in!
“I’ve been to Japan a few times with United now and I always enjoy it. Yokohama was a lovely city, right on the bay, and the facilities at the hotel and stadium were perfect. The Japanese are always very friendly and the support we have in the Far East is unbelievable. We were pleased to be able to put on two good performances for the fans and it’s a great feeling to be champions of the world.
“It was the perfect end to a very memorable year for the club, but we’re not going to stop there. We want to win more trophies and hopefully we can do that between now and the end of this season.”
“The trip to Japan was a fantastic experience and it was great to play a part in helping the team win such a historic trophy. On a personal level it does feel a little bit strange to be a world champion and not a European champion, but being involved with the best team in the world is certainly an honour.
“Playing and spending time with the lads was great, and almost every night was spent battling it out on the PlayStation game SOCOM. We’ve played it for a few years now and it’s still a big favourite with the lads. I was with Sheasy, Rafa, Anderson and Fletch, but soon after we arrived in Japan, we decided to recruit Wazza to try and improve us because we were getting hammered by the other team, which included the big danger man on SOCOM, Danny Welbeck. Wazza seemed to think he made a big difference to our team, but I think we all improved!
“There may be a wide range of cultures within the camp, but everyone gets on really well and the team spirit is fantastic. The banter and craic was probably the most enjoyable thing about the trip, although the hotel’s spaghetti bolognese was not far behind – I ate it virtually every night.
“Personally, I was really pleased to be involved in both games. Both Osaka and Quito had some quality players, but the one who stood out for me was Osaka midfielder Endo. We’d been warned about him before the tournament and he showed what a good player he is in the semi-final.
“The support we received throughout our stay in Japan was brilliant. Hundreds of fans waited outside the hotel day and night, and some would even follow the team bus and jump out of their cars to wave or take a photo whenever we stopped at traffic lights.
“Me and Darron Gibson were followed by some fans during a wander round the shopping centre attached to our hotel. We didn’t think anyone would recognise us, but as soon as we’d reached the top of one of the escalators we had to come straight back down because suddenly loads of fans were running towards us! Japan was a great country to visit.”
“We’d been planning the trip to Japan for a long time. We knew it was going to be tough, so we wanted to create the best possible environment for the players, both during our visit and also back in the UK – we even spoke to specialists at Liverpool John Moores University regarding how best to plan the players’ sleep patterns.
“From a coaching point of view I was happy with how things went from start to finish. We stayed over in London after the Spurs game and got the players up early the next morning for a training session at Queens Park Rangers’ ground in the hope they would sleep well on the plane later that afternoon. It worked well for most; it certainly did for me anyway. I watched a couple of movies, did a bit of reading and slept pretty soundly for most of the journey.
“Jet lag is never an easy thing to deal with. The research done by our sports science team shows the body takes one day per time-zone travelled to recover, we crossed nine and had only three days to prepare for the first game, so it was a big ask of the players. But Mick Phelan and I were very pleased with the sessions the lads did during the trip.
“The night before our semi-final against Gamba Osaka, Mick and I headed to Tokyo to watch the other semi between Pachuca and Liga de Quito. We’d seen videos of both before the tournament, but watching them live allows you to pick up on the movement off the ball and look at a team’s overall shape. I also caught up with the Japanese national coach Takeshi Okada, who I met in Manchester a few years ago – he gave me a few tips on Osaka!
“It’s my job to talk the players through the video clips of the opposition. We try to give them an idea of the general make-up of the team, highlight the key players and show them examples of what they can expect to deal with. I also stressed how big – and rare – an opportunity it was to be involved in such a prestigious tournament; it’s the same for us as coaches. Thankfully the result was a positive one – it was a long road to get to Japan and winning the trophy was just a fantastic achievement.”
“Seeing us become world champions was the ultimate experience. It was even more special as I was able to share the moment with my son Robert, who lives and works in Fukuoka, southwest Japan. The last time we’d seen each other was at the Champions League final in Moscow and as soon as I knew United would be playing in Japan I was always going to come.
“For my retirement present to myself I decided to travel to every European away game, and of course, to Japan. I flew out two days before the first game from Manchester to Amsterdam and then on to Tokyo. I came close to not making the trip after my wife was taken ill a few days before I was due to leave, but thankfully it wasn’t too serious and she insisted that I go.
“As well as watching United with my son, I’d also managed to get a ticket for a friend flying in from Australia. Unfortunately a family bereavement prevented him from making the journey, so I was left with a spare ticket. But as I boarded the plane at Manchester airport, I heard a young lad, Oliver, sat in front of me shout over to someone wearing a United shirt asking if he had an extra ticket. He didn’t, so I tapped him on the shoulder and offered him my spare. The plane was still on the tarmac yet we’d already got chatting and done the deal.
“As well as Oliver, I met so many great people during my trip and enjoyed sing-songs in Paddy Foley’s Irish pub in Roppongi. Two fans I met there actually took me to the FA Cup tie at Southampton and I went to Derby with them last week.
“I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of Japan over the years and the support for United is phenomenal. Wherever I wore my scarf, people wanted to shake my hand or have a photo – I felt like a real celebrity! I have nothing but happy memories from a very enjoyable trip.”
*This feature was first published in a January 2009 edition of United Review.
On this day in 2008 Gallery
Classic images from a 1-0 win over Liga de Quito that clinched the Club World Cup.