Hong Kong, 22 May 2014 – Former England winger Jason Wilcox says his young Manchester City team will “put on a good show” at the HKFC Citibank Soccer Sevens, as they look to make up for the disappointment of defeat in last week’s English U18 Premier League playoff final.
Wilcox, 42, led City to victory in the North Group of the U18 Premier League in his first season in charge, but after making it through to the final, his side lost 1-0 to Everton at Goodison Park last Saturday.
The Blues are now seeking to round off their season by improving on last year’s Soccer Sevens debut, when Wilcox was part of the coaching staff in Hong Kong as City were knocked out by Scottish giants Rangers in the quarter-finals.
City have an early chance to avenge that defeat as the reigning English champions are pooled with Rangers, Hong Kong First Division club BC Rangers and Singapore Cricket Club in Group C on Saturday, with Wilcox hoping to finish the season on a high.
“We were extremely disappointed to lose the U18 final, but I’m really, really proud to be the coach of what has been a really excellent season for them in terms of development. They’ve grown as a group and the Soccer Sevens finishes the season nicely, so we’re hoping to put on a good show,” said Wilcox, who first visited Hong Kong with England ahead of the 1996 European Championships.
“We’ve very young – extremely young, actually – but I’m sure that fans will enjoy watching them play because we’ve got some really talented players with a lot of flair.”
Wilcox believes his teenage stars suit the fast pace of the seven-a-side event, which features 16 teams in the Main Tournament and 12 sides in the Masters.
“This event’s a really good format; an interesting format. Have we got players who can deal with one v one situations? Yes. Have we got players who can get around the pitch? Yes. Have we got players with pace? Yes,” said the former winger, who won the 1994/95 Premier League with Blackburn Rovers.
“Even our defenders are comfortable on the ball and they like to attack. We’re a very attacking side with a lot of individual flair, right the way through the nine outfield players. We’ve got a lot of creativity one v one and that’s what you need. That’s something we’ve got in abundance.
“We’ve got a lot of quality, but then again they’ve never played this format before and we’ve not had a great deal of preparation time because we got to the U18 final. I’m looking forward to seeing how they adapt to the situation.”
Although his side are younger than most of the other British sides, Wilcox believes there may be advantage in his side all being drawn from the same team.
“It’s certainly an advantage,” he said. “When you’ve got a squad that’s a mixture of Under-21 players, first-team players and Under-18s, then you’ve never really worked together as a group. Our lads have been together all season, they know me as a coach and what I expect.”
Former Scotland striker Gordon Durie is in charge of City’s Group C rivals Rangers and has drawn most of the squad from his U-20 side who won the Scottish FA Youth Cup this month, after being pipped by Celtic in the U20 League.
Calum Gallagher, who scored on his first-team debut in March, is one of four players returning from last year’s Soccer Sevens, when the club reached the semi-finals for a second straight year.
The 19-year-old striker believes his return along with fellow forward Jamie Burrows, midfielder Andy Murdoch and defender Kyle McAusland will help Rangers, as they seek a first Cup win, having lost in the final in 2009 and 2010.
“A lot of the newer teams come over and they don’t really take the heat and the playing conditions into considerations,” said Gallagher, who will return for pre-season training at Rangers with Ally McCoist’s first-team squad.
“I think by having the experience of playing in the tournament, you know what it’s like. Having experience of the tournament will help, but at the same time we’ve got boys who haven’t had a shot here yet, who will come in and really help us out. We’re all dead excited to get it started.”
Gallagher also paid tribute to Durie’s work in his first season in charge of the club’s U-20 side.
“We’ve had an amazing season, fighting for the league title and then winning our Youth Cup final,” Gallagher said. “He’s come in and the boys have responded really well to him. He’s really vocal, so he’s everything you’d want in a coach developing young players.”
Groups C and D will start on Saturday morning, while Groups A and B kick off in the afternoon. Group D comprises defending champions Leicester City, five-time winners Aston Villa, HKFA U-21 and Yau Yee League Select.
Newcastle United, winners in 2012 and runners-up last year, are the favourites in Group A and will face Asian champions Guangzhou Evergrande, HKFA U-23 and Hong Kong Football Club. Group B features English clubs Chelsea and Sunderland, Hong Kong champions Kitchee and HKFC Captain’s Select.
The tournament starts with the opening round of Masters group games on Friday evening (7.00-9.00pm). All the Main group matches and the remaining Masters group games are held on Saturday (9.00am-8.15pm), while the knockout rounds take place on Sunday (8.00am-7.30pm).
Entry is free on Friday evening, while tickets for the weekend are HK$160 per day or HK$300 for a two-day pass, and are available at www.cityline.com.
Citibank has title sponsored the event since 2011 and other sponsors this year include British Airways, Nike, Aegon, The Excelsior, Tsingtao and Boase Cohen & Collins.
Group A: Newcastle United (ENG), Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN), HKFA U-23 (HKG), Hong Kong Football Club (HKG)
Group B: Chelsea (ENG), Sunderland (ENG), Kitchee (HKG), HKFC Captain’s Select (HKG)
Group C: Manchester City (ENG), Rangers (SCO), BC Rangers (HKG), Singapore Cricket Club (SIN)
Group D: Leicester City (ENG), Aston Villa (ENG), HKFA U-21 (HKG), Yau Yee League Select (HKG)
Group A: Rangers Legends (SCO), Wallsend Boys Club (ENG), USRC (HKG), Kowloon Cricket Club (HKG)
Group B: Aegon Ajax All Stars (NED), Eastern Salon Original (HKG), HKFC Chairman’s Select (HKG), HKFC Veterans (HKG)
Group C: Citibank All Stars (ENG), Nottingham Forest Mobsters (ENG), KFC Tokyo (JPN), SCC Tigers (SIN)