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Hong Kong Jockey Club

There’s no such thing as a friendly, says Manchester United academy coach ahead of Hong Kong District All-Stars test

The Red Devils’ U-16 hotshots and top prospects from districts around the city analysed each other’s strengths and weaknesses after a joint training session

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 August, 2017, 12:49pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 August, 2017, 1:11pm

Manchester United academy players and coaches were in no mood to fool around while training alongside the Hong Kong All-Star team they face in a friendly in Tsing Yi Sports Ground on Wednesday evening.

“[The Hong Kong District All-Stars] have good, high quality players. They play a bit differently to us,” said one academy player. “But we’re more focused; we know what we’re doing and we have our positions.”

The United U-16s are in town for the week-long Hong Kong Jockey Club Youth Football Academy Summit, in which they will play friendlies against the District All-Stars and the Hong Kong Football Association academy U-17s, and participate in cultural workshops.

The famous United youth academy, which has seen the legendary Busby Babes and superstars such as David Beckham and George Best pass through its ranks, brought their latest batch of young guns to a sweltering Jockey Club Kitchee Centre in Sha Tin on Tuesday, just one day after arriving from England.

“It was hot, humid and sticky, but we knew these were the conditions,” explained youth development coach Neil Ryan, who knows his side’s reputation is on the line.

“There’s no such thing as a ‘friendly’, and I’m sure that every opposition we play want to scalp us – it’s not just going to be a nice little game.

“Our boys have grown up in this environment. We’re going to have a tough test – we’ve heard a lot about [the All-Stars] – but we’re ready and looking forward to it.”

The Hong Kong players looking to cause an upset were hand-picked by coaches at district level before coach Sam Bensley and staff took over.

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“It went a lot smoother than anticipated,” explained Bensley. “We started off with around 120 players and had to cut the squad to 26 based on their performances in three training sessions.

“They played three friendlies and there has been steady improvement with each game. We’ve also played against senior oppositions because we know the English boys will be a bit bigger and more physical.”

Having witnessed their opponents in action during mixed-team five-a-side training matches and assorted technical drills, the local players are also brimming with confidence.

“Our objective hasn’t changed since the start: it’s to beat Man United. We’re from different districts but have trained together as one,” said Ng Man-hei, adding that the United players were fixated on positioning and making runs during training.

Coach Bensley has no doubts that his all-encompassing Hong Kong team has the spirit to give their distinguished opponents a run for their money.

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“Two words: Manchester United. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and if you’ve got the chance right in front of you and you don’t take it, you’re silly,” he said.

“It sounds like it’s going to be a full house and there will be coaches from local clubs, so it’s an opportunity for the boys to show how good they are.”