Manchester United are making a return to the SuperCupNI.
They sensationally pulled out of the tournament in 2015 ending a 25-year association although organisers were quietly confident that they would be back at the highly acclaimed international youth competition.
Welcoming the news, chairman Victor Leonard said he was extremely happy to see the Old Trafford favourites on their way back.
“Despite the disappointment two years ago we still maintained a good working relationship with United and respected their decision which, while difficult for us, was taken because of certain training requirements for the club’s reserves at that time,” he said.
“Manchester United are a huge draw at SuperCupNI and we have been able to enjoy enormous success over the years because of their much valued and unwavering support.”
Representatives of the tournament have regularly kept in touch with the club where they continue to be well received.
United, six times Premier title winners, will contest the Junior competition, one of six English clubs involved. Middlesbrough, Sheffield United, Plymouth Argyle, Swindon Town and Southampton join Glasgow Rangers and six Ulster County teams in the mix.
Four American sides and representatives from Mexico, Chile and New Zealand will also feature along with Cherry Orchard, North Dublin and Dundalk Schoolboys from the Republic of Ireland.
Leonard added: “The American contingent places high value on competing here because of the standard of opposition and the chance to introduce their players to challenging international aspects of the game.”
First Choice Soccer, GPS Bayern, Strikers and NC Elite make up half of the rest of the world line up in the 24-strong Junior competition, alongside Colina of Chile, Mexico’s Chivas Guadalajara and the Auckland-based MS Select who are back again from New Zealand.
Meanwhile, Newcastle United are heading back to the Premier League and boss Rafa Benitez has signed off on a Magpies return to the SuperCupNI.
The Geordies will rub shoulders with some of the finest international talent at the youth tournament with Chilean stars O’Higgins out to defend the Premier title they landed last year.
Newcastle United have been longstanding supporters of the event and were winners back in 1985 and again in 1989.
“It is fantastic to see the club continue to join us,” added Leonard.
“We have established a strong relationship with St. James Park down the years.”
He added: “We have a strong entry from across the globe this year.
“Our event has always prided itself on quality not quantity and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Former Premier winners Right to Dream from Ghana and French club Vendee are also in the line up alongside newcomers in Beijing’s Morning Star United, Japan’s Komasawa and Osasco from Chile.
Inaugural Junior section winners Rangers return in that category with Southampton, Middlesbrough and 2006 champions Swindon Town.
Leonard is also pleased with positive feedback from the Northern Ireland County teams who have grown in stature at the event in recent years.
“Some people suggested that we gambled several years ago when we formed County associations which could draw on players from wider areas.
“But we were certain the move would be good for the local challenge, strengthening it by raising the bar in terms of quality.”