Hong Kong diary: Sevens heaven for trio after Nike training session
17th May 2012
But it was refreshing to learn that the club's talent-spotters have worked their magic on domestic football in Hong Kong too.
On last year's trip, academy director Bryan Jones, coaches Ben Petty and Sean Verity and club ambassador Ian Taylor identified teenagers Lee Aj Hoi and Lau Hok Ming as two of the country's brightest footballing prospects in Nike's Be A Pro competition.
Lee and Lau, who won a week-long academy experience at Bodymoor Heath, got the chance to hone their skills under the tutelage of Villa's coaching team again today as they joined youngsters from Nike's Elite Training Unit for a soccer clinic.
Development coach Sean Verity and academy goalkeeping coach Ronnie Sinclair oversaw the session at Hong Kong Football Club, while academy director Bryan Jones was quizzed by local media about the success of Villa's youth system.
Jones was delighted to learn of Lee and Lau's progress since their Be A Pro adventure - both players are now on the books of Hong Kong First Division sides.
Another three budding stars are set for a memorable claret and blue experience this weekend after the coaching team selected the star performers from today's session to sit on the Villa bench for the Hong Kong Soccer Sevens.
While we negotiated our way to Heathrow on Tuesday for the long-haul flight to the Far East, the Aston Villa staff team were busy claiming the local bragging rights over our neighbours from across the Second City.
Many congratulations to my colleagues who took part in the comprehensive 4-0 win at St Andrew's.
It would be nice to think my presence was missed but sadly I just can't imagine that was the case.
Ask goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist. The Swiss stopper picked the wrong man to help him with some shooting practice in training this morning - all three of my efforts sailing aimlessly off target.
"That's why I write about it rather than play it," was the standard journalist's excuse I offered.
"Well, at least you know that," replied a bemused Benji.
Needless to say, I'll be sticking to the sidelines during tomorrow's training session.
Siegrist and captain Daniel Johnson are the only players in the Villa squad to have featured in past Hong Kong Soccer Sevens tournaments.
So this morning's training session at Hong Kong Football Club was something of an eye opener to the young squad.
Despite the early 8am start time, the claret and blue troops still had to battle with high humidity and heat as coach Sean Verity put them through their paces.
While Villa's success on the Soccer Sevens astro turf is unprecedented, Hong Kong Football Club boasts another immaculate green surface that has become a field of dreams to the club's backroom team over the years.
Indoor bowls is the leisure activity of choice for Bryan Jones and his staff and, despite vowing never to set foot on the green after a disastrous performance last year, I gladly accepted the academy director's challenge.
BJ teamed up with Sean Verity and another seasoned Hong Kong bowler, academy doctor Peter Giddings.
Myself, physio Paul 'Razzer' Rastrick and goalkeeping coach Ronnie Sinclair provided the opposition.
The result? A predictably one-sided affair with BJ, Sean and The Doc emerging 12-4 winners.
More kudos came Villa's way at the traditional Hong Kong Soccer Sevens sportsman's dinner - a pre-tournament event attended by all participating clubs.
Introducing teams from the masters and main competitions one-by-one, chairman Tony Brastanos gave an extra-special mention to the five-time Soccer Sevens champions.
Brastanos highlighted the club's triumphant side of 2004, noting that seven of the squad - including the Moore brothers, Liam Ridgewell and Peter Whittingham - went on to play Premier League football.
He also hailed Villa's academy as one of the best in the business.
Not one to soak up the adulation, academy director Bryan Jones was quick to joke: "I've just paid him 3,000 Hong Kong Dollars to say that!"
The evening proved to be full of laughs with Liverpool legend Ronnie Whelan delivering some humorous tales from his career, before Rangers boss Ally McCoist brought the house down during a hilarious Q&A.
He may not be heading to the Far East this summer but Marc Albrighton is still everyone's favourite poster boy in Hong Kong.
The Tamworth-winger was 'on track' to become a star in this part of the world last year when his image was plastered across trams to coincide with Villa's participation in the Barclays Asia Trophy.
This time around Albrighton - a past Hong Kong Soccer Sevens star - is the face of the tournament's promotional posters which are on display at Hong Kong Football Club and in surrounding areas.
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