NEWCASTLE United will have to rethink their pre-season plans after reports that the Vodacom Challenge has been cancelled.
Nearly a month ago it was reported the Magpies would be playing in the pre-season tournament in South Africa, but confirmation has not been forthcoming.
Now it appears the tournament has been called off.
Conflicting reasons have been given for the cancellation, some sources claiming the sponsors pulled out, others blaming Newcastle and SuperSport United’s failure to sign up to the event.
On Monday it was confirmed South African sides Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates had committed to it.
The prestigious competition has been held annually since 1999, featuring the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.
As well as offering warm weather training ahead of the new campaign, a trip to South Africa also provides an opportunity to tap into one of the game’s emerging markets.
South African hosted the last World Cup and thanks to players such as Tottenham’s Steven Pienaar and former Manchester United and Leeds United players Quinton Fortune and Lucas Radebe, the English top flight is popular in the country.
“As far as I know the tournament is out,” one source is reported as saying in Soccer Laduma, South Africa’s biggest football magazine. “Vodacom are not sponsoring the tournament this year and as a result of that it has been cancelled.
“The talks have been stopped and there is no way it will take place this year as it’s late.” Organisers SAIL have promised an official statement in due course.
Durban newspaper The Mercury cited the inability to get the two Uniteds to sign a contract as being behind the cancellation.
Newcastle had been expected to travel to South Africa before a weekend in Portugal, where they will play in the Guadiana Torneo in the Algarve. Olympiacos and Porto are their opponents in the weekend competition, it has been confirmed.
The Magpies will now have to consider alternative tours at short notice. Portugal apart, their only other confirmed pre-season game is at Cardiff City, seven days before the start of the new Premier League season. Last year they played six warm-up matches.
The main part of the preparations was a tour of North America which was not widely regarded as a great success.
The venues were well spread out, and involving a great deal of travel with facilities some players found unsatisfactory. One match was played on an artificial pitch in Orlando.
The tour was dogged by problems from the start, Joey Barton and Nile Ranger denied visas because of their criminal records, Danny Simpson and Mike Williamson missing games to attend the birth of their children, José Enrique incurring the wrath of the club for a Twitter outburst which helped engineer his transfer to Liverpool, and Hatem Ben Arfa picking up an injury.
In 2009 Newcastle had been due to play a friendly in Utrecht, but that was cancelled because of Northumbria Police’s concerns about clashes between rival North East fans. Sunderland were playing in the Amsterdam Tournament over the same weekend.
Instead they played a hastily-arranged friendly at Leyton Orient, which was lost 6-1.
Meanwhile, Sammy Ameobi’s focus next season will be on becoming a Newcastle regular after making his full Premier League debut last term.
The exciting forward was surprisingly picked for the trip to Manchester City. His other 12 appearances last season all came from the bench before his campaign was ended by a mid-season knee injury.
“My aim now is to get a few more starts under my belt and work my way into the team on a regular basis,” he told his club’s official website. “I don’t just want to be a player who plays every so often. Everyone wants to be in the team each week and I’m no different.
“That’s what I’m working towards and hopefully I can do that next season.”