Real Sociedad, the Spanish club with one of Europe’s most progressive and successful youth academies, will make a debut at this summer’s Dale Farm Milk Cup.
Manager David Moyes, a long time supporter of the Northern Ireland international youth football tournament, has confirmed to organisers that he will send a side to contest the Premier competition.
The tournament has also attracted another La Liga club with Malaga agreeing to test the waters in the same section.
Real Sociedad are famous across Europe for the high standard of their academy and Malaga have promised they too will bring their best prospects at this level.
Dale Farm, Northern Ireland’s largest dairy company, are again backing the event and their commercial director, Jason Hempton, says: The Dale Farm Milk Cup continues to attract the world’s most promising young football stars to Northern Ireland. Securing two high profile Spanish teams is a major coup for the tournament.
“With such rich talent on display, the 2015 Dale Farm Milk Cup is set to be one of the most exciting to date.”
Former Manchester United manager Moyes regularly sent teams to Northern Ireland’s world famous youth tournament when he was manager at Everton. He also conducted the draw, along with Wayne Rooney, back in 2003 when the present United captain was a teenager at Goodison Park. Indeed, Rooney played in the competition three years earlier.
“It’s a fabulous event which seems to enhance its reputation as the years go on,” says Moyes. “The atmosphere it generates around the region and its high standard of football at all levels is superb – a real credit to the volunteers who painstakingly organise it to exacting standards.”
Last November Moyes took up the reins at Sociedad, a club with a top six rated youth academy in Europe. He made his name at Everton for developing young talent and according to The International Centre for Sports Studies there are only five better youth systems in Europe than Real’s talent factory at ‘Zubieta’.
A player who featured in the Premier League with Liverpool, Xabi Alonso, is the most famous product of Sociedad. Another still plays in England, Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta.
Moyes adds: “Mikel told me that I am a very lucky man to be able to come to such a great club and a beautiful city. I signed him for Everton and he only had good words to say about Real Sociedad, the club and their youth academy.”
Bayern Munich midfielder Xabi’s father Periko Alonso, also came through the club’s youth system. Xabi and his brother Mikel learned their trade in the youth categories of Real Sociedad.
Northern Ireland fans will recall another Sociedad graduate, Spain’s former international keeper Luis Arconada, best remembered for palming Billy Hamilton’s cross straight into the path of Gerry Armstrong who scored to give the men in green their greatest ever World Cup finals result. That shock, in the 1982 World Cup, was all the bigger for having come against one of the best goalkeepers in the world at the time. Arconada came through the Zubieta academy and played in both of Real Sociedad’s League winning campaigns in 1981 and 82.
Malaga too have a huge youth pedigree and will, like Real, hope to progress to the knockout stages of the Dale Farm Milk Cup. To date, only one Spanish club has ever won the Premier tournament. That was a sparkling Barcelona team including Sergio Busquets and Giovanni dos Santos, defeated a Chelsea side coached by Brendan Rodgers in the final at Coleraine in 2005.
Also in the Premier line up are Chilean outfit O’Higgins who have sent entertaining squads to the Dale Farm Milk Cup in the past.
“The exciting brand of football they play is indicative of the talent in Chile,” says Dale Farm Milk Cup chairman Victor Leonard. “The club is a massive one and among the most successful in the country.
They place a high emphasis on their youth structures and continuing to test their players at our event is important to their coaches.”
The Dale Farm Milk Cup begins with the traditional parade of competing teams through Coleraine on Sunday, July 26, concluding with finals night at Ballymena Showgrounds on Friday, July 31.
In addition to title sponsors Dale Farm, the Dale Farm Milk Cup is supported by the Causeway Coast and Glens Council, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Tourism Northern Ireland and DCAL, with BBC Sport NI as broadcast partners.