Five-time champions Aston Villa and current Premier League pacesetters Leicester City will lead a strong English contingent in the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens at Hong Kong Football Club at the end of May.
Former winners Newcastle United, last year’s runners-up West Ham United and Stoke City complete a strong group who will feature at the annual event, which will take place 20-22 May.
Aston Villa have been a regular feature at the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens, but despite lifting the trophy on five occasions, they have not been crowned champions since 2010 and last year were eliminated by Newcastle in the quarter-finals.
“We are delighted to continue our long association with the Hong Kong Soccer Sevens tournament. It remains an integral part of our football development process,” said Aston Villa academy manager Sean Kimberley.
“Jack Grealish and Marc Albrighton are two academy graduates amongst many who have benefited from participating in the Sevens in recent times, and we are look forward to playing our part once again in this high quality event.”
Aston Villa landed the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens titles in 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2010 before winning the Shield in 2014 thanks to six goals from tournament top scorer Jack Grealish, who had also led the scoring charts a year earlier at Hong Kong Football Club after netting eight goals.
“Villa are a huge club, a very professionally run club that have been a strong supporter of the Soccer Sevens for many years,” said HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens Organising Committee Chairman Tony Bratsanos.
“They’ve won the tournament five times so they’ve been very successful here, and they’ve also brought with them a number of future stars. Gabby Agbonlahor, Craig Gardner, Gary Cahill, Ciaran Clark and more recently Jack Grealish have all appeared, so it’s always exciting to have them here.”
Leicester, meanwhile, made their debut in 2012 before winning the title a year later after beating Newcastle in the final.
And with Leicester currently leading the way in the English Premier League heading into the final two months of the season, they will return to Hong Kong Football Club looking to improve on last year’s group stage elimination at the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens.
“Obviously Leicester are the story of the season this year, so it is great to have them coming over again,” added Bratsanos.
Leicester have a history of producing players from their academy, with a trio of former England internationals in Peter Shilton, Gary Lineker and Emile Heskey among the notable names to have come through their ranks, as well as current first team regulars Andy King and Jeffrey Schlupp.
Newcastle complete the trio of former English winners having beaten Aston Villa in the final on their debut appearance in 2012 before reaching at least the semi-finals on each occasion since.
“They’re another team with a strong youth set-up and have club legend Peter Beardsley heavily involved in the running of things,” said Bratsanos.
West Ham narrowly fell short of adding to that list last year after losing a thrilling final 3-2 in extra-time to Spain’s Atletico Madrid.
“We’re delighted to have been invited back to the Soccer Sevens in Hong Kong. After the fantastic time we enjoyed last year, hopefully we can go one better and win it,” said West Ham academy coach Mark Phillips.
“I have been to tournaments representing West Ham United Football Club all over the world and none of those were as well-run or more enjoyable than the Hong Kong Soccer Sevens.”
West Ham boast one of the most renowned academies in England with the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Michael Carrick having all progressed through the ranks at the club, while Glen Johnson and Anton Ferdinand have both appeared at the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens.
“West Ham could have won the tournament last season but just fell short in the final,” added Bratsanos.
“They’re another team that are doing great things back in England this year and, of course, they are known for bringing young players through, so hopefully they’ll bring some exciting talents this year.”
Finally, Stoke complete the quintet of English Premier League sides having been eliminated in the group stage on their debut last year despite drawing 2-2 with eventual champions Atletico.
“The Hong Kong Soccer Sevens is a tournament with a rich history. A lot of big names – in terms of clubs and players – have taken part over the years,” said Stoke’s academy director David Wright.
“We really enjoyed our first taste of the Soccer Sevens last year; it was a fantastic experience for both the players and the coaching staff.
“We are delighted to have been invited to return for a second successive year. We’re already looking forward to it and will go there determined to represent Stoke City with distinction.”
Defending champions Atletico, New Zealand’s Wellington Phoenix and Japan’s Kashima Antlers have already been confirmed for the 16-team main tournament.