Tourism Malaysia dumps Chelsea for Man United

Tourism Malaysia has signed up as a sponsor for Manchester United, strengthening the football club's ties with tourism in the region. The announcement marks the beginning of Man Utd's second year of partnership with AirAsia and a year-long collaboration with the tourism arm of Malaysia as sponsors of the Trafford Training Centre in Carrington. AirAsia and Tourism Malaysia will work together to promote Visit Malaysia Year 2007. Tony Fernandes, group chief executive of AirAsia (does not fly to the UK but operates flights across South East Asia) said the partnership "presents vast branding opportunities not only for us in Malaysia but also to drive enthusiasm amongst fans, especially in Thailand and Indonesia as well as other countries that we fly to, where football also shares an equally strong foothold."

The £2 million deal marks the end of Tourism Malaysia's previous association at Stamford Bridge. "Manchester United have more fans in our part of the world than Chelsea and we feel this sponsorship deal offers us the best chance to promote Malaysia worldwide," said Malaysian tourism minister YB Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor. "There are Manchester United fan clubs in Malaysia and so many people who like to watch their games. "This package is better for us in a commercial sense and we will strive with United to make it work for the benefit of all parties."

The immediate spin-off will be a stop-off by Sir Alex Ferguson's Red Devils as part of a planned pre-season tour of Asia next summer. United's intended visit, their first to Kuala Lumpur since 1995, will help mark the 50th anniversary of Malaysia's independence, with chief executive David Gill admitting it should solidify United's support base within south-eastern Asia.

"We have always had a huge following in that region for main reasons; history, heritage and achievement," he said. "The success of the Premiership has also been an important factor and it will be good to have the chance to visit the region again. As with all our tours, we will not just turn up, play a game and leave again. It will be a genuine attempt to project ourselves to supporters who very rarely have the opportunity to see us live."

Simon Stone of PA Sport reported that although discussions are ongoing over the exact tour itinerary, with negotiations hampered slightly by the calendar for next year's Asian Cup, Shanghai would seem an obvious destination, as would South Korea, particularly as Sir Alex Ferguson appears to be lining up another signing to join Park Ji-sung at Old Trafford.

"The world has changed in terms of where you get players from now and we are currently looking at another young Korean boy we are hoping to bring over quite soon," revealed Ferguson without giving away the player's identity.