THAILAND - -Thai fans were not the only ones disappointed when the Manchester United squad stepped onto Thai soil minus star striker Robin van Persie yesterday.
Singha Corporation were none to pleased either, having placed the Dutch hitman in their TV ad campaign for tomorrow's exhibition match at Rajamangala National Stadium. Other high-profile absentees yesterday were Shinji Kagawa and Chicharito.
A report that Van Persie was not in the United group on the chartered flight to Bangkok only surfaced just before the team's departure. But it quickly became a hot issue among local netizens, with several fans making their resentment clear on popular online message boards.
Many felt deceived after forking out for tickets with the hope of seeing all of United's big stars. The fans' mood soon worsened with a report that the 29-year-old Van Persie, whose 26 league goals helped his team win their 20th top-flight title last season, would be joining the Red Devils' pre-season tour in Australia.
Singha Corp, who are marking their Boon Rawd Brewery's 80th anniversary by organising the United fixture plus a July 17 match featuring Europa League winners Chelsea, said they understood fans' disappointment but could do nothing to rectify matters.
The company said Van Persie had cited "personal reasons" for his decision not to travel with the team.
"We are just as disappointed by the news as anyone else. No one knows how hard we worked to ensure all of the team's big-name players would come.
"We only knew of Van Persie's omission at the last minute. The club simply said he was unable to come due to personal reasons. We couldn't do anything about it. It was something beyond our control.
"This does not represent a breach of the contract [with United] because the deal only stated that they would bring a first-team squad. And, you can see today we have [Ryan] Giggs, the "Brazilian twins" [Fabio and Rafael] and Rio [Ferdinand] with us," said Chutchai Wiratyosin, Singha marketing director.
Chutchai tried to put the Dutchman's absence into perspective, saying local fans still had household names such as striker Wayne Rooney to look forward to.
"Van Persie is the only big player among those we expected to come who didn't turn up. I think fans should enjoy the brief time the team are here with us, rather than dwelling on the negatives."
Team captain Nemanja Vidic and England winger Ashley Young (both injured) were other notable absentees from United's travelling party.
Despite the frustration at Van Persie's absence, the squad led by new manager David Moyes - who took over the Old Trafford hotseat following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson at the end of last season - was still given a noisy reception by local fans yesterday.
A large group of fans in replica United shirts, gathered at Don Mueang airport early yesterday, hoping to glimpse a Manchester team returning to the country for the first time since 2001. They carried a large banner reading "Welcome to Thailand Manchester United".
Loud cheers erupted as the United players walked through the sliding doors of the arrivals halls and onto their waiting coach. Former England international Rio Ferdinand paused to get some footage with his hand-held camera amid deafening noise from cheering fans.
An even larger crowd awaited the United delegation at Siriraj Hospital, where former Everton manager Moyes and evergreen winger Giggs were mobbed by fans scrambling to take photo of the pair. Security officials eventually cleared the way, and the Scots coach went on to pay his respects to Their Majesties the King and Queen by placing a floral tribute in front of their portraits.