Manchester United legend Nicky Butt played for Hong Kong’s South China FC as his professional football career drew to a close in 2011.
Six years later, the head of Manchester United Academy (MUA) pointed out how much the city’s football has improved since his time here, as his under-16 squad scored a narrow 3-2 victory over Hong Kong Football Academy (HKFA) last Saturday.
Earlier in the week, MUA had thrashed the Hong Kong District All-stars team 7-0, and many thought the HKFA would receive a similar drubbing from one of the world’s leading football institutions. But HKFA players showed they had the speed, co-ordination, and talent to compete with Britain’s best.
“We consider ourselves a great football club, and they [HKFA] were able to stick with us for the entire 90 minutes,” Butt told Young Post after the match. “They’re a great team. I think the key for them is to play like that every game, not just against Manchester United.”
The match concluded the Hong Kong Jockey Club Youth Football Academy Summit, during which the MUA got the chance to train and mingle with their opponents and participate in cultural workshops like a dumpling cooking lesson, peak tram ride and dragon dance.
Butt believes the summit was a big success for everyone involved. “I love Hong Kong,” the former England international said. “It was my home for seven months and is one of my favourite cities. It was the first time here for a lot of the boys and they all loved it as well. The more of these trips we can have the better ... hopefully two or three a year for each age group.”
HKFA’s star striker Sun Ming-him said he was able to learn a lot from MUA, not just in terms of technical skill, but in their approach to the game.
“I learned a lot from their professional attitude,” said the 17-year-old, who won the Outstanding Player Award for HKFA. “They are semi-professionals, after all. During practice they were never late. They would arrive 30 minutes early, have their gear on and were warmed up and ready to go.
“Doing well against such a world-class team is a big confidence booster for me and for the team.”
Butt, who called Sun a “stand-out player”, cited improvements in professionalism and work ethic as the main reasons for the growth of Hong Kong football since his stint in the city. And he said it’s essential that Hong Kong football continues to move forward.
“During my time, there were a lot of technically [gifted] players, but [they were] not so professional,” said the 42-year-old. “They had enough skills, but it’s more about getting on the pitch as much as possible – as many hours on the grass as you can.
“Our boys get around 14-15 hours a week and you don’t get that here, maybe 3-4 hours a week. But the HKFA are a really good team, they train a lot more, and you can see it’s paying off.”