The opening ceremony and official draw for the 20 finalists in this year’s 20th edition of the Manchester United Premier Cup was hosted on Monday evening and once again proved that this tournament is anything but predictable.
Officiating at the draw were Manchester United legends Denis Law and Bryan Robson who were clearly eager to watch a new generation of players emerge over the coming days:
Dennis Law, "There is no doubt that we will see some real talent here this week. These kids are so lucky - when I was just 15 years of age I was going to play in Southport - just down the road - and some of these youngsters have travelled across the world. They will have the opportunity to play and learn from young players who will go on to become the best of their generation."
Bryan Robson had some sound words of advice for dealing with the highs - and lows - of competitive football: "If they want to make it as a professional footballer, then they need to dedicate themselves to their football. Eat well, train well, sleep well. Play every game with passion and a determination to win. Work hard - as part of your team - and give it your best shot. Then win, lose or draw, you will have done your best. No-one can ask more than that."
The group stages will be played over the next two days, with the top two teams from each group moving into the knockout stages.
Group 1 sees an MUPC Finals debut for Rosina Sedibane Middle School from South Africa and Chilean side San Luis de Quillota, who carry their nation's hopes of repeating Catolica's remarkable win in 2012, alongside 2011 qualifier Ulsan Hyundai from Korea; seasoned competitors Real Madrid and tournament hosts Manchester United, who would no doubt revel in the opportunity to play the Final on their home turf.
Group 2 is headed up by Ghana's Right to Dream Academy, preparing to face Shandong Luneng FC. Footballing giants Boca Juniors and AC Milan kick off their title bid.
Group 3 is another tough draw with the return of SC Internacional from Brazil, who haven't qualified since 2010, against Arsenal who last qualified for the world finals in 2006. Both teams will undoubtedly have something to prove, along with Borussia Dortmund, who will inevitably be looking to emulate their senior team's success as Champions League Finalists in 2013. Newcomers Omiya Ardija and 2010 qualifiers Onehunga Sports will also compete for supremacy in this group, which will certainly throw up some surprises.
Group 4 appears the most open group, with Indonesian team Saswco FC competing in the tournament for the first time, alongside CD Guadalajara who will be hoping to take the trophy home for a second time, and European clubs Grasshopper Club Zurich and NK Domzale who play their first match against North American qualifiers, Dallas Texans.
As the evening draws to a close, the young players are no doubt reflecting on the words of Manchester United player Tom Cleverley: "I remember my MUPC experience in 2004 as if it were yesterday, reaching the final and walking out at Old Trafford was the best experience ever. We lost out to Manchester City, but you can't have everything. I would advise the young players here to enjoy themselves, enjoy their football, the whole experience. It's a shame only two teams can win the chance to play at Old Trafford, but the memory of this tournament will stay with you for a very long time."
Rosina Sedibane will kick off the tournament with their first match against Ulsan Hyundai, followed by their second match of the day against Real Madrid.
Tournament matches will take place at the newly renovated Aon Training Complex in Carrington, from August 6-9 with the Final being played out at Manchester United's "Theatre of Dreams" on Friday August 9, in a curtain raiser to the Rio Ferdinand Testimonial match, featuring Manchester United -v- Sevilla.
Rosina Sedibane; Ulsan Hyundai; San Luis de Quillota; Manchester United & Real Madrid.
Right to Dream Academy; Shandong Luneng FC; Boca Juniors; AC Milan & GNK Dinamo Zagreb.
Onehunga Sports; Omiya Ardija; SC Internacional; Arsenal & Borussia Dortmund.
Group 4Saswco FC; CD Guadalajara: Grasshopper Zurich; NK Domzale & Dallas Texans