| Ruud van Nistelrooy celebrates his goal against Celtic during their friendly in Seattle on Tuesday. Manchester United won 4-0. (Reuters)
The sale of David Beckham to Real Madrid has become Manchester United’s dark secret in America, something akin to a private family tragedy that the locals approach with a mix of awed respect and unquenchable curiosity.
So it was a brave American reporter who asked Sir Alex Ferguson if he “had any words” for those people in Seattle who had hoped to see the England captain grace their Seahawks Stadium.
The United manager always used to have plenty to say in private to those who sought to narrow his team down to the man in the No 7 shirt, but he swallowed his disdain and said that he had “no words at all”.
On a tour worth around £4 million, the rage has to stay locked up, regardless of how much the shadow of their former right midfielder seems to be pursuing United across the continent.
Beckham stares out from the front of America’s Men’s Journal magazine billed as “The Most Famous Athlete in the World”, an interview that, they boasted, was harder to obtain than an audience with the Queen. He is described as speaking with “the working-class accent of Essex”, a “gritty, suburban enclave” that is pungently evoked as “the New Jersey of England”.
Beckham’s summer holiday in America, and the attendant publicity, gave helpful advance notices for the club’s four-match tour, some United sources have said.
Yet the identity of United, who only merited a down-page story in The Oregonian Newspaper’s Monday sports supplement, is clearly not matched by that of their departed player.
In a country forever in thrall to the most outrageous storylines, it would appear that Ferguson would make headlines only if he talks about Beckham.
Sir Bobby Charlton has been the first United official to break rank this week with an eloquent defence of the club’s decision to sell. He took the old theme of Ferguson’s continuous policy of renewal, that decisions have been made “first and foremost” for the club — and that the choices which led to Beckham’s departure were not exclusively made by United.
“I like David, he is the England captain and an extremely good player but he is just one player. He has left the club and that is an end to it,” Charlton said.
“Now we will be judged on our results like any other football club. I have never doubted Sir Alex’s judgement and don’t forget that you don’t take decisions like that lightly.
“But equally David made a lot of decisions about his own future, we were not the only ones who were making decisions. I am confident going into the new season. We have a great crowd, great players and are a well-run club.”
United have still sold out all but one of their matches on the tour, which would suggest that Beckham’s absence has not punctured the popularity of a team who drew 10,000 people to a training session at Nike’s headquarters.
Without the England captain, the American sportswear Behemoth who paid United £300 million for a 13-year deal are also spared the indignity of Beckham’s trademark Adidas boots running around on their immaculate pitches.
But if you wanted a simple indicator of United’s immediate profile it was the sight of Rio Ferdinand strolling unnoticed through Portland’s city centre this week. He could have been any young man in designer sportswear.
There is acknowledgement here that Beckham has a story to tell but, for many sports fans, the American angle to it has been hard to fathom.
United still have to generate even that level of interest against the American sporting public’s fascination with the imminent rape trial of Los Angeles Lakers basketball player Kobe Bryant.
Until then, the only Manchester on the front pages here will be the town in New Hampshire gearing up to host Democratic Party presidential primaries.