Manchester United and Everton great Phil Neville is expected to be at Coleraine Showgrounds on Saturday to watch the Red Devils Under 19s take on Celtic in a curtain raiser to next week’s SuperCupNI.
Neville, manager of the England Women’s International team, will run the eye over his son Harvey who is a member of the Manchester United squad due to touch down in the province on Saturday.
Meanwhile, United’s rising Northern Ireland star Ethan Galbraith will also travel but injury rules him out of the glamour game.
It’s another blow for Galbraith who also missed out on last year’s tournament opener when United beat Northern Ireland at Coleraine Showgrounds. On that occasion he was the victim of a registration error.
Several of the United panel here for the Celtic showdown are on familiar ground. Twelve months ago, when United defeated Northern Ireland 1-0, keeper James Thompson was on the bench. The party included defenders Ethan Laird, Brandon Williams, former Chelsea Academy star Di’Shon Bernard, midfielders Dylan Levitt and Dion McGee plus Manchester-born striker D’Mani Bughail-Mellor.
Williams and Oldham lad McGee started the game which drew a capacity crowd to the Showgrounds.
This time United have added Spanish midfielder Arnau Puigmal and Belgian striker Largie Ramazani, along with French midfielder Aliou Traore and Anthony Elanga who is qualified to play for Sweden and England and has been called up for underage squads by both countries at different times.
Spain youth international Puigmal was signed from Espanyol where he had been since 2010. He won the most valuable player of the tournament award at the Mediterranean International Cup where he scored in the final in Barcelona.
Traore was previously with Paris St Germain and Burundi-born Ramazani had previously come through the Anderlecht academy before a move to Charlton Athletic.
Elenga is another class act. He scored twice in United’s 3-2 win against a Rangers side in a development game in Scotland back in February.
“Several of these lads have earned professional contracts with us,” said United’s Academy education and welfare head Dave Bushell who has been with United teams at the international youth tournament for more than two decades.
“They are a very gifted bunch of players with massive potential,” he says as he relishes another North Coast visit.
Celtic have also a squad of highly talented players with 17 of their 21-strong panel from Scotland.
There are two Irish teenagers in the group though. Midfielder Barry Coffey spurned overtures from Manchester United among others to sign a three-year deal at Parkhead last summer. He played for Chelsea in a youth tournament in Rotterdam and had been offered trials by both Manchester clubs.
The teenager from Nenagh in County Tipperary, has found success on the international stage too, being capped for Republic of Ireland at both under-15 and under-16 level, while he also captained his country at under-16 level in a match against Denmark.
Joining him is striker Thomas Caffrey who also was in big demand by cross channel clubs in the summer of 2016 but elected to leave Dublin side Ballyfermot and St. Francis to join the Hoops.
Australian-born attacking midfielder Leo Mazis has been at the club since February after a successful two-week trial.
The Canberra hopeful says: “It was unbelievable when I got the call to say Celtic were offering me a contract. It’s always been my dream to play football at the highest level and Celtic are a massive club so I’m over the moon with this opportunity.”
Scot Ciaran Diver delivers goals, while midfielder Kristi Marku is the only English player in the ranks.
Saturday’s game at Coleraine Showgrounds has a 5pm kick-off and marks the start of the SuperCupNI tournament which has competitions at Minor, Junior and Premier level this year.
A parade of teams will take place in the town centre on Sunday from 7pm with a welcome ceremony at the Showgrounds where former Northern Ireland international Gerry Armstrong will open the event.