Jones: I'll never forget Gabby's performances in Hong Kong Sevens
Bryan Jones knew Villa had a star on their hands after witnessing Gabby Agbonlahor's stunning performances at the 2006 Hong Kong Soccer Sevens.
Now the academy director has challenged the 2012 squad to use the Far East tournament as a similar springboard to success.
Villa have developed a love affair with the Soccer Sevens over the past decade, lifting the trophy in 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2010, as well as finishing runners-up to Japanese side Urawa Red Diamonds in 2006.
The club have also provided the player of the tournament on five occasions - Jonathan Brewer in 2002, Stephen Cooke in 2004, Agbonlahor in 2006, Zoltan Stieber in 2007 and Barry Bannan in 2008.
The exploits of Agbonlahor in 2006 are described as "unforgettable" by Jones, who has been bringing Villa squads to the prestigious competition since 2001.
"Gabby Agbonlahor is a great example of what the club's Academy players can achieve and I'll never forget his performance in the 2006 Sevens," he said.
"His work-rate, desire and ability to create space in such intense heat were simply unbelievable.
"The Soccer Sevens is an outstanding way of allowing our young players to develop.
"Nathan Delfouneso, Marc Albrighton and Barry Bannan have all done well in Hong Kong in the past few years and then graduated into the first team."
As well as contending with an unusual format and unfamiliar opposition, Jones says the difference in culture provides the young Villa stars with a unique education.
This morning's training session at Hong Kong Football Club offered most of the squad a first experience of playing in high humidity and heat.
Of this year's travelling party, goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist and captain Daniel Johnson are the only past Soccer Sevens participants.
"There are a number of ways that the tournament provides a springboard to further success," Jones added.
"For a start the players have to get used to long-haul flights and become accustomed to training in 32 degrees and high humidity.
"It's a magnificent learning curve to travel to another country and experience a different culture.
"Of course the tournament itself is extremely well organised and has a fantastic structure to it.
"For the young lads it's a great experience to be playing against some of the Asian teams.
"It is something they may never do again in their careers."
Villa's Hong Kong Soccer Sevens campaign gets underway on Saturday with group stage fixtures against Hong Kong Kong Football Club, HKFA Dragons and Newcastle United.
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