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Man Utd's Japanese adventure

By Steve Wyeth
BBC Manchester reporter in Yokohama

Man Utd have a big following in Japan
Man Utd will be followed by their large Japanese fanbase

Anyone who has seen the Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray film Lost in Translation will have an idea of what Manchester United are going through on their trip to Japan for the Fifa Club World Cup this week.

The experience so far has been about as close as you could imagine to visiting an alien planet, without leaving the earth's gravitational pull.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson certainly suffered - albeit with a great deal of humour - a few moments worthy of a scene in Sofia Coppola's Oscar winner at his first news conference.

Those familiar with the film will recall the perplexed look on the face of Bob Harris (played by Murray) at the filming of his commercial as the complex instructions from his Japanese director are conveyed to him in but a few, brief words of English.

Man Utd boss Sir Alex Ferguson
Ferguson was in good form at the pre-match news conference
Here we were treated to a mirror image as Ferguson's concise answers to routine questions were made to seem like whole chapters from War and Peace by the time Fifa's Japanese translator had worked her magic.

United will have to acclimatise to the shock to the senses that accompany Thursday's Club World Cup semi-final against Gamba Osaka.

That said, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rio Ferdinand and co are unlikely to have to tackle a public transport system so complicated I found myself relying on the goodwill of the locals to get from A to B.

And unlike the rest of us who are struggling to cope with the jet lag, United's players are being sympathetically eased into their visit.

Training on the first evening lasted a mere 45 minutes (although it was enthusiastically monitored, like their every other move, by a swarm of locals) and the following day's breakfast was served at one in the afternoon.

But the body clocks are set to take a battering, with the United players switching back to UK time on Friday - two days before their second game in Japan. That's because they have a Premier League game against Stoke on Boxing Day.

The Club World Cup represents another chance for Ferguson to add to the mountains of silverware he has already delivered to Old Trafford. But how significant would this one be?

The cynic in me questions just how seriously you can take a competition where three of the seven teams had been eliminated before United even touched down in Tokyo.

One of those to be eliminated, Waitakere of New Zealand, are only part-time while another, Adelaide United, earned their right at a (very long) shot at the title by losing the Asian Champions League final 5-0 on aggregate to Gamba.

Lost in Translation stars Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson
Murray and Johansson teamed up to great effect in Lost in Translation
Ferguson, despite having to postpone a Premier League match for the privilege of being here, said he would treat the tournament with respect, pointing to its significance elsewhere.

And it is not often teams from around the world get to play illustrious visitors from Europe and South America, other than on their money-spinning pre-season tours.

Unfortunately, midfielder Paul Scholes obviously did not get the same hymn sheet, voicing his belief before departure that the players would be better off at home, concentrating on domestic matters.

Hopefully United, and the rest of us, will have adapted to life in Yokohama before Thursday's opener.

Although, I recall Bob Harris's experiences weren't all bad. Didn't he have Scarlett Johansson for company on those long, sleepless nights?

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see also
Ferguson eyes Club World Cup win
16 Dec 08 |  Man Utd
Manchester United big in Japan
16 Dec 08 |  Man Utd
Ferguson condemns 39th game plan
16 Dec 08 |  Man Utd

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