When Manchester United’s official Twitter feed revealed that Sir Alex Ferguson was retiring, the #thankyousiralex” hashtag quickly went viral. According to CNET, 1.4 million people had tweeted it on within an hour and it became Twitter’s number one global trend within eight minutes.
The news was soon reverberating into the political world too. British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted that the Scottish manager’s achievement at the club had been “exceptional” and the leader of the Labour Party Ed Milliband used his own Twitter account to say that Ferguson “will never be forgotten”.
So how was the news greeted in China, where Manchester United claims 108 million supporters (according to a survey that it commissioned from research firm, Kantar)?
Much like in the UK, media were quick to praise the man who had won 49 trophies during his managerial career, 38 of them with the Mancunian giants. “There is only one Ferguson in this world,” ran CBN’s headline. “No one can beat Ferguson,” reckoned Tencent Sport, while Sina Sport led with “Why we say Ferguson is the greatest coach ever”.
But on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-equivalent, there was considerably less activity than elsewhere in the world and comments about Ferguson’s retirement numbered just 15,770. While they were all positive in tone (“an old Scottish man who changed the world of football” being fairly typical) the level of interest was much less than might have been anticipated.
To put the interest in Ferguson in perspective: the biggest trending subject in China on Monday was news of the investigation into NDRC vice director Liu Tienan, which received 389,573 comments.
Fergie will be even more put out to hear that Sina Weibo’s most commented topic of the month is Zhang Aoyue’s victory in the Chinese version of So You Think You Can Dance. Its tweet tally: 3,294,903.
In fact, the low level of online interest backs WiC’s view that Manchester United’s count of its Chinese fan base is a tad rose-tinted (see our most recent Focus edition, The China Trade, for more discussion). At the very least it suggests the 108 million supporters lack the enthusiasm of their British peers…
Meanwhile, news of Sir Alex’s departure spooked further rumours about the future of China’s best known foreign soccer coach, with Sohu Sports reporting that Paris St Germain may be looking to lure away Marcello Lippi, the Italian coach of Guangzhou Evergrande.
When Lippi touched down in China last May he told press that his arrival “may be the most important thing for China today” (we enjoyed his self-confidence: see WiC151). At the time, there were hopes that the former Italy and Juventus manager might help prompt a turnaround for China’s scandal-prone league. But just a year into his contract, it doesn’t look like Lippi has the patience to oversee the transformative effort required. On May 7 he told La Gazzetta dello Sport that he would be returning to Italy in 18 months time.
But now with PSG said to be in the fray, speculation is mounting that he might swap Guangzhou for Paris a bit earlier than that.
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