English Premier League chief gives Hong Kong’s Asia Trophy organisation a glowing report – despite vowing never to return after 2013 farce
Richard Scudamore admits he feared the worst earlier in the week when rainstorms lashed the Hong Kong Stadium pitch
The English Premier League’s top man gave a glowing appraisal of Hong Kong’s handling of the Asia Trophy – though he admitted he feared a repeat of the farcical scenes of 2013 was on the cards as the city was lashed by non-stop rain earlier in the week.
Richard Scudamore, the league’s executive chairman, said he had effectively crossed Hong Kong off the list for hosting the biennial event after the 2013 edition attracted negative headlines all over the world when the Hong Kong Stadium pitch was reduced to an embarrassing quagmire by summer storms.
As the rain bucketed down on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, Scudamore might have been wondering why he changed his mind, but the pitch – relaid at a cost of some HK$30 million – held up well for Wednesday night’s opening games between Liverpool, West Bromwich Albion, Leicester City and Crystal Palace.
“Of course [I was worried],” said Scudamore in a round-table interview on the sidelines of a joint Asian Football Confederation-Premier League conference at the Grand Hyatt hotel on Thursday.
“Having said that there’s always been huge confidence in the pitch – because four years ago we effectively said there’s no chance of this thing coming back.
“We monitor lots of stadia around Asia and lots of places, but it is quite intoxicating coming back here because the local partners on the ground, the Hong Kong FA under the chairmanship of [chairman] Brian Leung [Hung-tak] and particularly [chief executive] Mark Sutcliffe, they’re people we’re very comfortable working with and we know if they say, ‘This is going to happen, it happens.’
“You’ll understand that’s sometimes not always the case everywhere you go, but this is logistically a very good place to put on an event.”
The league also knows it can bank on fandom – both nights sold out in a matter of hours and almost every person in the stadium seemed to be wearing a Liverpool shirt.
Juergen Klopp was frustrated as the rain disrupted his pre-season training plans, but that is almost an afterthought with the club’s army of staff organising a host of promotional events, marketing exercises, sponsorship agreements and all the other necessities to ‘build the brand’.
These tours are about far more than football, with some 400-plus people involved among the four clubs. Liverpool alone have as many as 120 here, Scudamore said.
“This isn’t like it was when I started doing this in 2003 – you turned up, you played the matches that was it,” added Scudamore.
“In 2007 I think Harry Redknapp hardly trained his Portsmouth team ... they were sat round the pool most of the time and then they played the matches and they won the thing. That’s only 10 years ago.
“I’m probably doing them a bit of a disservice, but the level of professionalism and intensity – i think two of the teams are staying on ‘mid-time’, sleeping until lunchtime – the sports science ... it’s just the way the game’s moved on, you’ve got this huge increase in professionalism from the science, the analysts, physical, medical ...
“Since 2003 every time that’s just ratcheted up and up and up ... the whole thing is very demanding locally to put on and there aren’t many places that have the places and facilities.”
Despite the avowal of love for Hong Kong, the league was keen to share the tournament with mainland China, but logistical difficulties proved insurmountable.
“We can’t do things last minute,” Scudamore added. “You have to do things with certainty you have to know long enough in advance that you’ve got a definite arrangement and therefore as much as it’s nice to get a yes, sometimes its better to get a no early if you’re going to get a no, because then you can plan and move on and make alternative plans.
“I don’t think it’s any secret we were trying to play some of these matches elsewhere, we got very close to organising a couple of these matches in Shanghai and again in Shenzhen, but in the end you have to get the clubs together and say, ‘Right, here’s the options,’ ... and it was decided in the end to play all the matches here.
“In one sense it doesn’t really matter where the matches are played because [Hong Kong] is a regional hub anyway. So it’s logistically easy for a lot of people to get here. But obviously certainly going forward – and we’ve been to Beijing, we’ve been to Kuala Lumpur, Thailand, Singapore – these things are bigger and expanding.”