The English Premier League’s Asia Trophy looks set to return to Hong Kong next summer – despite the farcical scenes that made global headlines last time out.
Though the deal is not confirmed it is understood the HKFA are in the final stages of negotiations with the EPL.
Singapore, which hosted last time in 2015, is also in the running but a Hong Kong source said they were very confident.
The popular pre-season tournament, which sees three English Premier League teams and one local team face off, made global headlines for the wrong reasons the last time Hong Kong hosted in 2013.
Days of non-stop torrential rain rendered the much-maligned pitch at Hong Kong Stadium a swamp, with the managers of Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland branding it dangerous.
“I am worried about the safety of my players,” said then Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio.
“It is a killer pitch in this weather with injuries, at this stage of the season especially. You can have a slip on a heavy pitch like that, or make not a natural movement, and it can cause a problem.”
Tottenham and City both had players injured in the bog, and with the tournament broadcast around the world, the pictures and footage were an embarrassment for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), which manages the pitch.
Then Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas was reportedly insistent that his team would not play their second game in 2013, before being won over.
Tottenham’s head groundsman, travelling with the team, was brought in to make the pitch somewhat playable.
The pitch has since been entirely reconstructed at a cost of HK$31 million after the stadium was closed for six months. But it has not appeared greatly improved, and the LCSD admits it can only handle 30 matches a year.
ESPN reported that the Premier League will host two events in Asia in the summer, with one in mainland China and the other in Hong Kong or Singapore.
The Premier League recently agreed a massive broadcasting rights deal in China and is keen to boost its brand.
But after Manchester City and Manchester United’s pre-season friendly in Beijing this year was cancelled because of the state of the Bird’s Nest pitch, and given the scenes in Hong Kong in 2013, clubs may have cause for concern.
The biennial Asia Trophy has been held three times in Hong Kong since its inception in 2003, more than any other country. The league and clubs like the HKFA because of its professional organisation and the city because of its less chaotic atmosphere compared to many others in Asia.
“The Premier League has given us credit for everything – the organisation, hospitality, support services, logistics and even the set-up at the Hong Kong Stadium, but not the pitch, that has let them down seriously,” said HKFA chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak in 2013, as he warned that the Premier League would be unlikely to return if the pitch woes were not sorted out.
But he sounded a more confident note last year when it was confirmed Singapore would host the 2015 tournament.
“Hong Kong has hosted the Asia Trophy three times before and all with great success, attracting the most number of people in the event’s history,” he said.
“We will talk to the Premier League next year for the 2017 event, and I am sure Hong Kong will be considered due to the popularity of the event here and our impressive organisation work”.
Hong Kong is also hoping to have a Reunification Cup match featuring major teams on July 1 to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover.