One of European football’s most highly acclaimed youth academies will be hoping to live up to its reputation when Spanish club Espanyol debut at the Dale Farm Milk Cup this summer.
The Barcelona-based club will send representatives to contest the Premier section of the international youth football tournament.
The Spaniards have produced some top international players down the years and a former Milk Cup graduate, ex-Manchester City winger Vladimir Weiss, had a spell on loan with them after being spotted by City scouts playing for Slovakia’s Under-17 national team at the tournament.
The Espanyol academy blossomed during current Southmpton boss Mauricio Pochettino’s spell in charge of the senior side. He enhanced the academy’s role and took an extrememly keen interest in the development of young players from an early age.
Indeed, Southampton’s commitment to the Ulster event has been underlined by confirmation of their return in the Junior event.
Meanwhile, one of the tournament’s most loyal supporters, Newcastle United, are returning in the Premier Milk Cup and U-18 coach Dave Watson, the former England and Everton star, is challenging his youngsters to go one step further than the club’s representatives two years ago and win the Milk Cup.
That summer, the Magpies – inspired by player of the tournament Adam Campbell – reached the final before losing to a hugely impressive Desportivo Brazil outfit with senior manager Alan Pardew attending the game at Ballymena Showgrounds.
Last year the Magpies lost twice to Liverpool in the competition, the second time round in the subsidiary Globe final.
Watson says: “We’re hoping we’ll do well again. Obviously we don’t know what we’re coming up against, what the opposition’s like, but we’re going there with great memories.
“The lads learn a lot from the tournament. It’s a tremendous competition – some games are televised and they’re placed on decent pitches so it’s a great experience for the kids. It really is good and the public over in Northern Ireland really love the tournament so it’s well supported.
“It’s all about winning. We’re at the development stage but there’s a cup at stake now and the kids have got to get into that winning mentality. That’s what it is when we go to the Milk Cup – it’s all about progressing as far as we can and hopefully trying to win the cup.”
Former Premier winners, Dublin club Cherry Orchard, are back in the line up as the competition continues to attract the cream of youth talent from the Irish capital.
Southern sides have been hugely supportive from the inception of the tournament and it was a proud achievement for Cherry Orchard to win back in 1993. More recently Crumlin United and St. Kevin’s have both finished runners-up in the Junior event while Home Farm won the 1988 title, beating Dundee United in the decider and the following year Dublin and District Schoolboys lost out to Dungannon Swifts in the final.
Middlesbrough and Plymouth Argyle are coming back to take part in the Junior section. It will be Boro’s first representation in this section since 2002.
The Dale Farm Milk Cup begins with the traditional parade of competing teams through Coleraine on Sunday, July 27, concluding with finals night at Ballymena Showgrounds on Friday, August 1.
In addition to title sponsors Dale Farm, Northern Ireland’s largest dairy company, the Dale Farm Milk Cup is supported by the four Councils of Coleraine, Ballymena, Ballymoney and Limavady, with BBC Sport NI as broadcast partners.
Note for editors:
Dale Farm is part of the United Dairy Farmers Group, a UK dairy farmer co-operative owned by over 1,600 dairy farmers who supply it with fresh milk. Dale Farm has operations throughout the UK and Ireland producing and distributing a wide range of dairy products which it sells across the UK and Ireland as well as exporting to over 45 countries worldwide.