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The relationship between South Africa and Manchester United

by Wright Mbongo
Feb 16, 2014 8:11 PM GMT



Manchester United are the only team in the Barclays Premier League era that have been represented by South Africans than any other English club. The English giants are one of the European sides to have a good relationship with South Africa in terms of luring players, with former goalkeeper Gary Bailey and star midfielder Quinton Fortune flying the South African flag high with the famous red and white strips of Man United.

Gary Bailey, who paid to fly himself to Manchester from South Africa before passing his trials, didn’t have the best of starts after winning a contract at Old Trafford in the late 1970s, allowing Premier League rivals Arsenal to score in the dying seconds of the match to give away the FA Cup in the 1979 final. But he bounced back and is considered as one of the best goal-minders in the country during the mid-1980s.

The rainbow nation has been like a second home to the Red Devils, as they enjoy touring in the country in their offseason friendly matches, and the fact that they have experienced big a fan base in South Africa. In the last decade, Manchester United has toured South Africa three times in 2006, 2009 and 2012.  

According to Manchester United fan base stats, they are the most followed team in Africa and more than any other continent. The city of Cape Town, where Man United played inside an almost sold out 2010 World Cup venue Cape Town Stadium in 2012, is the city that has an official branch of the club’ supporters, as their former player Fortune was also born there.

Fortune joined in 1999 from Spanish giants Atletico Madrid and made 129 appearances under the guidance of one of the greatest football managers, Sir Alex Ferguson, from 1999 to 2006. While Fortune was enjoying his stint at Old Trafford, even though he was mostly used as back-up if Ryan Giggs, the left footed wide player had his own team back in South Africa that played in the second tier called FC Fortune.

It is the same club that once Manchester United super-kid Paul Wheatcroft had a loan stint before going back to Man United where he was loaned again out to Bolton Wanderers and failed to make an impact at the Reebok Stadium and then he went to drop to non-league football till date.

The other South African player who almost made a switch to Old Trafford is none other than Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar. The 31-year-old attacking midfielder almost followed his former manager David Moyes to United, but the Scottish manager thought twice before bringing him on board looking at the number of players that are playing in his position at the club.

At the moment, there might be few South African players who might match the standard of Manchester United, but there are two players that have the credentials to don the red and white jersey in the near future. Ajax Amsterdam attacking midfielder Thulane Serero and FC Twente bound attacker Nhlakanipho Ntuli, who are both in the path where once Tottenham Hotspur player Steven Pienaar went through.

There is also Ayanda Patosi, who currently plays for Belgian outfit KSC Lokeren OV and he has caught the eye of Manchester United league title rivals Chelsea, after the 21-year-old scored a sensational volley in 2012 against Standard Liege that rocked in the internet around the globe.    

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