Wednesday 24 July 2013
The squads have arrived in Hong Kong, the fans are ready, the anticipation is building, and the stage is set for this year's Barclays Asia Trophy.
Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, South China and Sunderland will do battle this week in the sixth running of the tournament, which is the only Premier League-sanctioned competition outside England.
Premier League star David Ginola, who made almost 200 Premier League appearances for Newcastle United, Spurs, Aston Villa and Everton, is in Hong Kong as a Barclays ambassador and he says the Barclays Asia Trophy will play a key role in the pre-season preparations for the teams taking part.
"This tournament is very important for every single team and winning it would be a good thing to start the season with," he told premierleague.com.
"Tournaments like this are really valuable for the managers"
"When you start pre-season you work on the physical side and then you use the friendlies to find out which part of your game you are going to change. So for the managers, tournaments like this are really valuable. You need these friendly matches to make sure you will start the season in good shape. You are also playing in front of 40,000 English-mad football supporters who make it a superb atmosphere."
Sunderland were the first to arrive in Hong Kong when they flew in on Sunday, while Spurs and Manchester City touched down on Monday. All three teams were greeted by hundreds of football fans at the airport, who were desperate to capture a glimpse of their heroes in the flesh.
Players and managers spoke with the fans, signed autographs and had their pictures taken with the supporters and Ginola predicts that the players who have not been to the region before will be impressed with the reception they receive.
"Premier League fans in Asia are amazing," added Ginola. "They are mad about English football. They know everything about it. When you have Tottenham Hotspur, Sunderland and Manchester City coming to play in Asia it's something special and I am pretty sure the fans will make it more special for the players. For some of the young players who have not been in Asia, they will see how important football is in these countries."
The action on the pitch begins on Wednesday night, Hong Kong time, with Spurs facing Paolo Di Canio's Sunderland while, later on, 2011/12 Barclays Premier League champions City, now managed by Manuel Pellegrini, play South China. The third-place play-off and final take place on 27 July.
The Barclays Asia Trophy will give fans the opportunity to watch some of the newest additions to the Premier League with the likes of Stevan Jovetic, Paulinho, Emanuele Giaccherini, Alvaro Negredo and Jozy Altidore all travelling with their new teams to Hong Kong.
"This is why this BAT is interesting," said Ginola. "We will be able to see these teams playing against each other and we will have a fair idea of how they will line up next season.
"There is a lot of expectation for Spurs. Manchester City will be a big contender for the League and I am looking forward to watching how they do under the new manager. There will also be a focus on Di Canio, as he starts the season with Sunderland. He has made a few signings and he needs to test them in friendly matches. It's going to be fascinating."
South China make up the quartet and, having won the Hong Kong title for a record 41st time this summer, Ginola says they will be eagerly anticipating the challenge of taking on the teams from England.
"They will be able to see how they do against some of the biggest teams in the world," he explained. "Since China qualified for the FIFA World Cup for the first time in 2002, China have done so much. South China are the best team in the area and this is important for them."