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TORONTO — It will be a family reunion for manager Sir Alex Ferguson this summer when he brings Manchester United to Canada.
The Red Devils toured the U.S. in 2003 and 2004, but are adding Toronto to their North American itinerary this year.
“It’s new in terms of a game, yes, but I know Toronto. I’ve got a lot of family there,” Ferguson told The Canadian Press on Thursday.
“My dad’s family moved there in 1959. I’ve got nine direct cousins. I’ve got about 40 second cousins. I’ve got an aunt still alive, and my grandmother died there. She’s buried in Toronto. I’ve got an uncle buried there.
“My great-aunt, who was very close to me, she died last year there. So we’ve got a big family connection.”
The United boss plans a family get-together in Toronto the day before his team plays Glasgow Celtic at Rogers Centre on July 16.
Tickets for the Toronto game went on sale Thursday with a spokesman for the promoter calling box office business brisk.
It’s the first of five games on United’s pre-season trip. The Premier League powerhouse will also play the Philadelphia Union, Kansas City Wizards, MLS all-stars and Mexico’s Chivas.
United has toured the Far East in recent pre-seasons, taking advantage of an “amazing fan base,” according to Ferguson. But he says the previous U.S. visits “have been the best tours of all.”
United has other ties to Canada. Current midfielder Owen Hargreaves was born and raised in Calgary while Hamilton-born Jimmy Nicholl played for the Red Devils from 1974 to 1982, scoring six goals in 247 games.
Both elected to play for the country of their father’s birth rather than Canada. Hargreaves is an England international, while Nicholl, who was raised in Belfast, won 73 caps for Northern Ireland.
“Good guy, Jimmy,” Ferguson said of Nicholl, who is an assistant manager with Scotland’s Kilmarnock.
As for Hargreaves, he will be part of the tour squad as he looks to return from an extended absence due to chronic patellar tendonitis that required several surgeries by world-renowned Dr. Richard Steadman in Colorado. Earlier this month Hargreaves saw his first action with the senior team since September 2008.
“He’s had a tough time, there’s no question,” said Ferguson.
“I think the step now for Owen is that mental step, having the confidence to actually go on the field now in terms of a game,” he added. “All his training performances have been good. He’s been enthusiastic about it. But he needs that big step forward to playing a game.”
Ferguson’s tour squad will not include the likes of England’s Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick, Serbia’s Nemanja Vidic, South Korea’s Park Ji-sung Park, Portugal’s Nani, France’s Patrice Evra and newly signed Javier Hernandez of Mexico, who will be at the World Cup pending final roster moves.
The list of touring players includes Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Dimitar Berbatov, Edwin van der Sar, Darren Fletcher, John O’Shea, brothers Rafael and Fabio da Silva, Darron Gibson, Jonny Evans, Mame Biram Diouf and new signing Chris Smalling.
“I’m going to have a big squad of first-team players,” Ferguson said. “So it’s not a problem for me.
“I know, the experience of World Cups in the past, having to deal with the aftermath of it is always difficult. They (the World Cup players) need a rest.”
Asked about possible squad acquisitions this summer, Ferguson turned the subject to United’s recent history of acquiring young talent, citing Rooney, Anderson, Nani, Antonio Valencia, Gabriel Obertan and Hernandez.
“We’re good at that,” he said. “And people don’t recognize we’ve spent over 20 million (pounds) in young players this year: Smalling, Hernandez and Mame Diouf.
“People say ‘Yeah, you’re not spending money.’ We’re spending money but we’re spending it in an area where we feel good at, bringing young players to the club so there’s a foundation and (we’re) developing a long-term part of the club then.”
A British newspaper report Thursday linked United to 19-year-old Everton midfielder Jack Rodwell.
The 68-year-old Ferguson, who took over United in November 1986, has won more than 30 trophies with the club. He is the longest-serving manager in English soccer, according to the League Managers Association which says there have been 969 managerial dismissals since he was appointed United boss.