We are not here for the cash, say Premiership clubs
Liverpool, Fulham and Portsmouth insist development is the key
Developing the game - not raking in dollars - was the motivation for playing in Hong Kong, English Premiership clubs insisted yesterday ahead of the Barclays Asia Trophy.
Featuring Liverpool, Portsmouth, Fulham and local champions South China, the tournament, which starts at Hong Kong Stadium tonight, has attracted intense local interest.
Only a few thousand of tickets are available for today's matches, while tickets for the second day, Friday, are nearly sold out.
'We know Asia is a massive market for the Premier League, which has great interest in this part of the world, but we do not come here for financial reasons,' new Fulham manager Lawrie Sanchez said yesterday.
'We are here to do our best to push the development of the game and are making ourselves visible by going out to local schools for the kids. It is good for the fans.'
Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez also said he did not care how much money his club received. What mattered was to seize the opportunity in the pre-season to bring quality soccer to this part of the world.
'I am only worried about the sport part and for me it is part of the pre-season that we need to prepare properly for the two games we are playing here,' he said.
Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry told the club's website the Reds were very keen to give something back to Asia and were determined to make the most of their trip by sending some of their academy coaches into the local community to host clinics.
The Merseysiders will play South China in tonight's second match, after Portsmouth meet Fulham in the opener. The winners will meet in the final on Friday, with the losers playing in a third place play-off.
Some observers hold the view that big-name European sides use their summer tours as an opportunity to fill their coffers through charging exorbitant appearance fees and maximising the commercial aspects of their visits.
Steven Gerrard, who also visited Hong Kong with Liverpool in 2003 for a friendly under the Re-launch Hong Kong Campaign, said he was expecting a demanding outing against the Caroliners.
'It will not be an easy game, just as it was not easy for us when we were last here,' said the captain.
'We are expecting a tough test because we are still in the pre-season and it takes time to raise our level to our normal level.'
Benitez shared Gerrard's view, but promised fans the game would not be glorified training sessions.
'We haven't seen South China play but we know they will be quick and fitter. It is an important game for them and it is going to be tough,' he said.
'We are a serious team and we want to prepare for the game properly. We had a training session yesterday after our arrival and another one this morning. We want to get ourselves ready for the game as we are here to win.'
South China skipper Li Haiqiang acknowledged there was a big gap between the two clubs but said his side would do their best.
'We have been training for three weeks with major focus on the fitness side,' he said
'We are ready for the match and can definitely benefit from playing against one of the best teams in the world.'
Portsmouth captain Dejan Stefanovic said it would be a tough game against Fulham but the most important thing was to use it as a gauge of their preparedness, especially in conditions players were not used to. Pompey manager Harry Rednapp said every player would be involved in the match.