The best football talent Hong Kong’s youth has to offer will face the ultimate test as Manchester United Academy (MUA) is in town. Their U16 team will face the Hong Kong District All-Stars and the Hong Kong Football Academy U17 squad for friendly matches on August 16th and August 19th, respectively at Tsing Yi Sports Ground.
MUA is one of the world’s premier football schools that has produced some of the sport’s greatest legends, including Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and David Beckham. So, the Hong Kong boys certainly have a tall task in front of them.
The matches are part of the week-long Hong Kong Jockey Club Youth Football Academy Summit, where the MUA players will also train with their opponents and engage in cultural workshops; including a dumpling cooking lesson, lion dance and peak tram tour.
It is the first time in Hong Kong for MUA coach Neil Ryan and co-captains Mason and Ben, whose full names cannot be released for legal reasons. They spoke to Young Post after a training session with the district all-stars.
“When I found out we were coming here a few months ago, I was buzzing,” says Ben, a 16-year-old central defender. “To come here and represent Manchester United is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s hot and humid here, but it’s beautiful. I’m really enjoying it.”
16-year-old Mason says that, despite the language barrier, he enjoys training with Hong Kong’s local talent. “Everyone understands the language of football, so there was no trouble communicating with them on the pitch. I’d say they were good players, high-quality players and it was good to mix it up with them.”
He adds, however, that he believes MUA has the more disciplined squad. “I’d say we have a lot of focus, and we know what we’re doing in terms of positions and everything. I’m not sure about them.”
It’s no secret that MUA will be the heavy favourites going into both matches. “As long as the game is competitive, I will be happy,” explains Sam Bensley, coach of the district all-stars. “These lads have dreamed of playing against Manchester United since they were young boys. They know it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I’m sure they will be up for the challenge.”
Bensley adds that the team has been playing against Hong Kong’s senior teams to prepare for the MUA, whose players are much bigger and physically stronger.
But coach Ryan has been around long enough to know you should never underestimate an opponent. “There’s no such thing as a ‘friendly’ match,” he says. “Our boys grew up knowing that every game we play, the opposition wants to get a win. It’s going to be high level opponents. We believe we’re going to have a tough test tomorrow, but we’re looking forward to it.”
District all-stars captain, 17-year-old Chong Cheuk Wai confirmed that his team has every intention of winning. “Of course we want to beat Manchester United,” he said. “That was our objective 4 weeks ago and, since then our coaches and players have put in a lot of effort to improve the team’s chemistry and ability. So, our objective is still the same, to beat Manchester United.”
Ben, who says he is fascinated by Hong Kong culture, has some advice for young aspiring footballers: “Whenever you step out onto the football pitch, go out there to impress yourself, and you’ll impress others,” he says. “You’ll keep getting a little better each time until eventually, you reach the top.”