Reigning Hong Kong Premier League champions Kitchee will send three promising players to a “youth internship programme” in Spain next season with the objective of securing a loan deal with a Spanish team. The programme, run by former Kitchee head coach Josep Gombau, will take about 30 elite international youth players to a high-intensity training camp at the Terres de l’Ebre Sports High Performance Centre in Amposta, eastern Spain, the club confirmed in a press release on Wednesday. Shinichi Chan, 19, and 18-year-old pair Ellison Tsang Yi-hang and Chen Ngo-hin were nominated for Kitchee’s first batch of prospects, in a programme all parties hope will become a sustainable annual pathway for local talent development. The trio will travel with Kitchee’s senior team for their Asian Champions League group game campaign in Thailand on Thursday, before leaving for Amposta, located in the Catalonian province of Tarragona, in May. The players will spend about two weeks training with yet-to-be named local Spanish teams, before returning to Hong Kong in mid-May. Should they impress, they will earn a one-year loan contract with the respective clubs and return to Spain for preseason in August. Former FC Barcelona youth coach Gombau, who helped Kitchee win two league titles between 2009 to 2013, including and a treble in 2012, said the recruitment programme will include both on- and off-the-pitch learning, including morning cultural classes and language learning. It is unclear whether the programme is related to retired Spanish legend David Villa’s football academy located nearby. Villa, whose DV7 Soccer Academy entered a partnership with Kitchee in 2016 , is also part-owner of the New York-based team Queensboro FC, who are set to debut in the USL Championship in 2023. Gombau was named as the side’s first head coach and sporting director in 2020. Chan, who has featured for the Kitchee and Hong Kong senior team multiple times, is considered a serious prospect with the highest probability of securing a loan deal. The Tokyo-born fullback’s move is not surprising given was fined and banned from playing for any of Hong Kong’s representative teams for one year by the Hong Kong Football Association in January for his part in the U-23 team’s hotel antics during an AFC championship qualifier in Japan last October. Ten other players received similar bans and varying fines, with Chan immediately apologising for disappointing fans with “my severe lapse of judgment” and promising “I will do better”. “I had a trial invitation from a Croatian club last year but it didn’t work out in the end because of the [Covid-19] pandemic,” Chan said. “I’m excited for the chance to go to Europe again. It will be a remarkable experience regardless of the result.” Kitchee technical director Leung Chi-wing identified teenage duo Tsang and Chen’s strong technical abilities which he hopes will translate seamlessly to Spain’s game. Central defender Tsang has been through each of Kitchee’s age-grade teams after joining at six years old, and has represented the youth teams overseas on multiple occasions. Chen, a midfielder who joined at under-16s level, was called up to the first team this season like Tsang before pandemic restrictions saw Premier League clubs abandon the season. “They play in different positions but they both excel in decision-making while on the ball,” Leung said. Kitchee president Ken Ng Kin, who has long laid out plans for his youth academy “conveyor belt” to the first team , is hopeful his players will shine abroad. “The pandemic will not stop Kitchee or Hong Kong football from moving forward,” he said. “We aim to formalise and systemise the partnership between Kitchee, Josep Gombau and participating Spanish clubs. We are confident this partnership will become a crucial part of our youth development, serving as a bridge for our academy graduates to get a foothold in top-tier professional football.” Kitchee face host team Chiangrai United on April 16, the winner of Vissel Kobe and Melbourne Victory on April 19, and Shanghai Port on April 22, before playing all three again in a double round-robin format to conclude in May.