Reds close in on Red Devils
Thu, Dec 11, 2008

IT IS not just on the pitch that Liverpool are closing the gap on Manchester United.

The Barclays Premier League (BPL) leaders are also winning the battle for new global fans, according to the biggest survey done by the league's principal sponsors, Barclays.

Polling 32,000 fans in 185 countries and territories, the survey showed that Man United remain the most popular club, but by only the tiniest of margins.

Both United and Liverpool attracted the backing of 26 per cent of the supporters who took part in the voluntary survey.

The results also undermine Chelsea's hopes of supplanting Manchester United as the biggest English club.

While the Blues appear to be regarded as this season's team to beat - 37 per cent of fans tipped them to win the title - only 10 per cent of those surveyed are willing to declare themselves supporters, well behind even Arsenal (15 per cent).

For Liverpool, the results represent a significant advance on the 18 per cent figure they registered in a similar but smaller survey carried out by Barclays three years ago.

The popularity of Liverpool's biggest stars also suggests that United's status as English football's most valuable brand is under siege.

Cristiano Ronaldo may have been a near-unanimous choice for the European Footballer Of The Year title, but he trails behind Liverpool duo Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard in terms of popularity among fans.

The survey also showed that fans regard Barcelona star Lionel Messi as the most desirable target among players plying their trade outside England.

There are also important regional differences in its findings.

For example, Man United are still out in front as the most popular team in Asia, buoyed perhaps by the fact that South Korean midfielder Park Ji Sung is a regular at Old Trafford.

The poll also reflects technological change, with the Internet (82 per cent of those polled) now almost as important a medium for the enjoyment of football as television (92 per cent).

Meanwhile, newspapers have been relegated to third place (55 per cent) and are under siege from new platforms, such as Internet feeds and mobile phones.

Some traditional aspects of English football culture continue to dominate.

The passion of fans and the atmosphere in the country's stadiums rank as the most attractive feature of the BPL, ahead of the attacking style of play. --AFP

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