English Premier League Legends in Singapore for the Barclays Asia Trophy 2015

Yesterday, I was able to come up close and personal with not only former Arsenal goalscoring ace Ian Wright, but also former Everton attacking midfielder & forward Graeme Stuart and ex-Stoke City forward Mamady Sidibe.

This had been at an exclusive football fan meet-and-greet event, which was organised by Barclays Singapore.

From left to right. Mamady Sidibe, Graham Stuart and Ian Wright.

From left to right. Mamady Sidibe, Graham Stuart and Ian Wright.

Visiting Singapore to promote the Barclays Asia Trophy 2015

The three football legends were in Singapore over the past couple of days to promote the upcoming Barclays Asia Trophy (BAT) 2015. This tournament will be taking place on July 15 and 18.

In the BAT 2015, four teams will be competing for the trophy and these will be Arsenal, Everton, Stoke City – and the Singapore Selection XI.

So over the past couple of days, the three legends, together with well-known sports presenter John Dykes (who used to be based in Singapore), have been meeting the local people and finding out more about the Singaporean culture, food and way of life, to help raise more interest and awareness for the BAT 2015 – staged in Singapore for the very first time. Previous editions of the BAT had taken place in several other global cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Beijing.

Legends are impressed with Singapore

And no doubt, the legends are definitely impressed by what they have seen of Singapore so far. Said Wright, “I love the hospitality and friendliness of the Singaporean people and how enthusiastic they are about football. I also tried durians – and I’ve never eaten anything that smelled so bad before!”

Added Dykes, “It definitely is fantastic to be back here in Singapore and reminds me of the days when I used to be based here for my work. Many things in Singapore have changed since then, but there are still lots of things that I love about the Singapore of today. And now, as a bonus, Singapore has a wonderful stadium to host the BAT too, so the football scene here is definitely looking much brighter than ever.”

Heading into the BAT 2015 tournament, Dykes is also confident that it will play out differently to when European teams come to Asia during the pre-season to meet fans and unwind before the season begins.

Between the Barclays Premier League trophy (left) and Barclays Asia Trophy (right).

Between the Barclays Premier League trophy (left) and Barclays Asia Trophy (right).

Explained Dykes, “I have witnessed big clubs from Europe coming to Singapore to collect money – without really putting on much of a showcase in terms of football. But as this is a competitive trophy being played out on stage, all the teams will have serious ambitions and want to do well. So it will feel like a Barclays Premier League experience – right in Singapore’s own backyard. It will definitely be amazing.”

Added Stuart, “Our bread and butter is after all, the Barclays Premier League. But we are hoping to deliver a good performance in the BAT – to kick-start a good campaign in the Premier League next season.”

Hopes Everton can do better in the 2015/2016 season

Indeed, Stuart definitely hopes that Everton can do better in the upcoming season – compared to the 2014/2015 league season at least – when the Toffees had found themselves struggling in the Premier League because of a build-up of fixtures, with their participation in the Europa League as well.

He added, “But we still enjoy those special European nights though, as they remind us of those special times back in the 1980s when we were playing European football regularly.”

Wright is disappointed by how badly Arsenal started the 2014/2015 season

Wright is slightly disappointed with how Arsenal’s 2014/2015 season has gone. He said, “We lost and drew too many games especially at the beginning of the season. If we had started the season by winning many more games, we could have given Chelsea a much closer fight for the title. In fact, when I had played for Arsenal, under George Graham, I don’t remember us playing so badly at the beginning of a season – so I don’t know where they got lost. What we need is the mentality to be able to draw or win games where we are not playing well – in order to stand any chance of challenging Chelsea.”

“New signings will also help. Arsene Wenger always says that we don’t need a centre half, but I think that we do. Also, we need more powerful midfielders. It seems that Arsenal always seems to buy the same type of midfielder these days – slight, small and diminutive. What we are lacking is a stronger presence on the field,” added Wright.

Fans queue for the chance to meet and talk to their heroes.

Fans queue for the chance to meet and talk to their heroes.

Agreed Stoke’s Sidibe, “Arsenal definitely need stronger players who have a more intimidating physical presence, not only in midfield, but also in defence. Chelsea are a very physical side and they do well – I think that is what Arsenal needs, in order to succeed.”

Sidibe is pleased with Stoke’s improvements over the past few seasons

As for Stoke themselves, Sidibe is very pleased with their performance over the past few seasons. Since Stoke’s promotion into the Premier League, about seven seasons ago, they have gone from strength to strength.

Said Sidibe, “Since we were promoted from the Championship into the Premier League, we have improved over the seasons and have become well established. We have since been able to attract much better players, such as Peter Crouch. So the team has continued to grow bigger and bigger every year. Moreover, since manager Mark Hughes took over at the club, he has changed the way that we played – and he has done a fantastic job too.”

England will not win the World Cup in the near future

Do these English Premier League legends think that the English national team will ever stand another chance of winning the football World Cup, though? Said Wright, “We may be a world power in the Barclays Premier League, but we are not the strong international football nation that we used to be anymore. We need to do a lot more in the academies of the Premier League teams and give young English players the chance to play against the best in Europe. That is the only way that England can improve.”

Agreed Stuart, “Though I think we have a good academy at Everton, it is one thing to bring the kids in, but is a completely different thing to break into the first team – with the influx of talented foreign players.”

When pressed further to give names, Stuart cited Ross Barkley and John Stones as two current promising up-and-coming English players. But he too, thinks that they cannot bring England to World Cup glory – as there are simply not enough of such talented English players.

With John Dykes and the Barclays Asia Trophy.

With John Dykes and the Barclays Asia Trophy.

Most memorable football matches in their careers

And what do these legends see as the most memorable football matches, throughout their illustrious football careers? Said Everton’s Stuart, “Many think that it is the FA Cup Final in 1995  when we beat Man U. But it’s not. The Man U game was merely the icing on the cake. My favourite was actually the FA Cup Semi Final against Tottenham at Elland Road.”

This had been because the media was completely writing off Everton’s chances, and proclaiming that it was going to be a Man U vs. Tottenham final. “But we managed to find the strength in us and so we whipped Spurs 4-1 in that game. Then when we won in the final against Man U to clinch the trophy, that was thus the icing on the cake!”

For Sidibe, this was Stoke’s first home win in the Premier League – which had been against Aston Villa at the beginning of the 2008 season. Stoke won this game 3-2, thanks to Sidibe heading home his team mate Rory Delap’s long throw to score his team’s third goal. Said Sidibe, “Everyone said that we had no chance against Villa, but we proved them wrong. The winning goal was through a classic Stoke long throw, and the win felt very sweet.”

With Ian Wright, Arsenal Legend.

With Ian Wright, Arsenal Legend.

Singaporeans can look forward to a great tournament come July

But regardless of what their most treasured personal football memories are, these legends, together with Dykes, all agree on one thing – Singaporeans can definitely look forward to a memorable BAT 2015 tournament come July.

Dykes said, “I feel very lucky to be a part of the Barclays Asia Trophy 2015. Because of the three strong Barclays Premier League teams taking part in it, and the wonderful stadium in Singapore which will host the tournament, football fans in Singapore can definitely look forward to something good.”

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