May 29, 2015: Leicester City are under pressure to “come back with the Cup” from this weekend’s HKFC Citibank Soccer Sevens as an experienced squad set out to make up for last year’s disappointing title defence and regain the trophy.
Leicester arrived in Hong Kong after an excellent season in England’s U-21 Development League, eventually finishing sixth behind the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City.
Nicky Eaden, the club’s U-21 Assistant Coach, is now under instructions to crown the season by leading his side to Soccer Sevens success at Hong Kong Football Club, where the Foxes have walked away with silverware in each of their three previous appearances.
“I’ve been told I’ve got to come back with the Cup,” said Eaden, head coach of this year’s squad after being part of the management team at the past two Soccer Sevens. “That’s why you enter tournaments. That’s what you want to do each time – try and win it – so that’s what we’re here to do.”
Leicester’s final Group A match against 2012 champions Newcastle United on Saturday evening could be one of the highlights of the pool stage, but Eaden believes the Foxes’ U-21 squad are confident, having consistently held their own against the best in England this season.
“We’ve definitely punched above our weight, considering the teams we’re up against, the likes of Chelsea, Man City, Man United,” Eaden said.
“It’s down to sheer hard work. We’ve got some good players, but when you’re up against teams who recruit from the very best in the world at this level and spend money to recruit, you’ve got to have that work ethic. We’ve been a real team this season.”
Leicester have one of the most experienced squads in this year’s Soccer Sevens. Defender Alie Sesay, midfielder Jak McCourt and 2013 Player of the Tournament Harry Panayiotou are playing for a third straight year, while defender Callum Elder of Australia and forward Joe Dodoo return from last year, when Leicester won the third-tier Plate after an underwhelming title defence.
However, Eaden is most excited about the potential match-winning talents of Jack Barmby, the son of former England international Nick Barmby. Jack Barmby, who signed Manchester United last summer, has already represented England at U-16, U-18, U-19 and U-20 level.
“Alie, Jak and Harry have been out here a couple of times before, and we’ll need their experience,” Eaden said. “Jack Barmby is a really individual player, but we’ve got him working in the team framework. He’s got real ability, especially in one on one, so he’s a player we’ll be looking to give the ball to. He’ll probably start in midfield with the licence to break forward, but basically we want him on the ball.”
Eaden emphasised the importance of a strong start in Group A – which also includes BC Rangers of the Hong Kong Premier League and Singapore Cricket Club – after a slow start last year resulted in the Foxes falling into the lower-tier Plate competition.
“Newcastle’s a big match, but we’re looking at the first and second games as well. They’re going to be far from easy. We came unstuck last year against HKFA U-21 and when looking back, we possibly took them too lightly and you will get punished,” Eaden said.
“We had a real slow start to the tournament, although we managed to recover it on the second day. Last year, a few of the lads tried to ease themselves in, but we’ve warned them this year that you can’t afford to do that.
“You do need a really good start to the tournament. You’ve got to go out and try to win the first game, second game, third game and basically try to win every game that you play. Seven-a-side is a real lottery because you can dominate a game, but one mistake can cost you a goal and then you’ve got an uphill task.”
In Group B, West Ham United will face Hong Kong champions Kitchee – the 2011 winners and last year’s finalists – Chinese Super League club Shanghai SIPG and HKFC Captain’s Select.
Group C features five-time winners Aston Villa, managed by club legend Gordon Cowans, Wellington Phoenix, HKFA U-18 and Hong Kong Football Club. Group D features English debutants Stoke City, Spanish giants Atletico Madrid, HKFA U-20 and Yau Yee League Select.
In the Masters Tournament for over-35 players, Wallsend Boys Club and USRC – BTS are the top seeds in Group A, which also features HKFC Veterans, KCC Veterans and debutants Kitchee All Stars. Seeds Citibank All Stars and Nottingham Forest Mobsters headline Group B, which includes SCC Tigers, Discovery Bay and HKFC Chairman’s Select.
This year’s 10-team Masters Tournament has a new format, starting with two round-robin groups followed by the Plate final between the third-placed teams in each group, Cup semi-finals for the top two teams in each group and Cup final.
Matches run from 6.00pm-9.00pm on Friday (free entry), 9.00am-7.40pm on Saturday and from 9.00am-6.00pm on Sunday. Tickets for the weekend are priced at HK$160 per day or HK$300 for a two-day pass and are available through Cityline (www.cityline.com).
Group A: Newcastle United (ENG), Leicester City (ENG), BC Rangers (HKG), Singapore Cricket Club (SIN)
Group B: West Ham United (ENG), Kitchee (HKG), Shanghai SIPG (CHN), HKFC Captain’s Select (HKG)
Group C: Aston Villa (ENG), Wellington Phoenix (NZL), HK Premier League Club TBC (HKG), Hong Kong Football Club (HKG)
Group D: Stoke City (ENG), Atletico Madrid (SPA), HKFA U-20 (HKG), Yau Yee League Select (HKG)
Group A: Wallsend Boys Club (ENG), USRC – BTS (HKG), Kitchee All Stars (HKG), KCC Veterans (HKG), HKFC Veterans (HKG)
Group B: Citibank All Stars (INT), Nottingham Forest Mobsters (ENG), SCC Tigers (SIN), Discovery Bay (HKG), HKFC Chairman’s Select (HKG)