BOLTON Wanderers are on their way back to the Milk Cup.
Last year’s beaten Premier finalists were so impressed with the standard and organisation of the top international youth tournament that they quickly signed up for this summer’s competition.
“It is a real feather in our cap to have a Premier League club so keen to return,” says tournament chairman Victor Leonard.
“There is now such intense competition for youth teams with so many large summer tournaments across Europe vying for entrants.
“But in Northern Ireland we have something very special and that is the support and backing our event receives from the public.
“The visiting players and officials love the welcome they receive here throughout their stay and that is the key thing they take away with them.
“It is a winning formula. Something that is not unique to Northern Ireland but so genuine and natural that it makes a lasting impression and changes the perception of this country for many people after they have spent a week with us.”
Bolton lost last year’s Premier final 2-1 to the exciting Africans Etoile Lusitana who have already confirmed their return.
The Senegalese won numerous friends with their superb skills and positive outlook.
Also returning in the Premier section for Under-17s are Aspire from Qatar and New Zealanders Otago.
New Zealand keeper Masen Hayes is hoping to be included. He has already been on trial at Ipswich Town as well as Rushden and Diamonds while Leicester City are also keen on the young talent and have invited him to train later this year.
The Milk Cup will further extend its South American links this summer with the arrival of Venezuelan club Zamora at the international youth tournament.
Down the years organisers of the event have worked hard to develop links with the continent and teams representing Brazil, Chile, Peru, Uruguay and Paraguay have all featured.
Zamora, a First Division club in Venezuela, are relatively new, founded in 1977 and have been keen to broaden their horizons in recent years.
Victor says the success in bringing them to Northern Ireland has taken a considerable amount of work.
“We obviously have a network of contacts in South America and we are always exploring ideas to increase the range of countries coming to our competition.
“It is important for us to continue to cement excellent relationships we enjoy in South America and in the past decade we have been very pleased to host some exciting
young footballers who have given spectators fabulous entertainment of an extremely high level.
“Venezuela is a new destination for us but we know Zamora are highly thought of in terms of youth development and we are looking forward to welcoming their representatives this summer.”
Zamora will compete in the Premier tournament for Under-17 players which will also feature holders Etoile Lusitana from Senegal, Manchester United and Bolton Wanderers, as well Hartlepool, Aspire, from Qatar and New Zealanders Otago plus six Northern Ireland counties and two teams from the Republic.
The Milk Cup draw will be made in Belfast’s Odyssey Complex on Thursday, May 26, while the competition kicks off on Monday, July 25, following a welcome parade of teams through Coleraine on Sunday, July 24.