Two years ago, when the English Premier League (EPL) was hunting for a city to host its popular Barclays Asia Trophy tournament in 2015, it was Singapore that quickly emerged as the overwhelming favourite.
The EPL's director of sales and marketing, Richard Masters, said that the league had long had its eye on the Republic, and opted for the Lion City this year because of the availability of the new National Stadium in Kallang.
"We've always had the ambition to come to Singapore. This is a country that is one of the original hotspots of interest and passion for the Premier League," he told The Business Times in a recent interview during a visit here to promote the four-team event.
There are three EPL clubs jetting into town for the July 15-18 tournament - the new FA Cup winners Arsenal, Everton and Stoke City. They will be joined by a Singapore Select XI coached by former national striker V Sundramoorthy.
Having been to Hong Kong for three of the tournament's last four editions, Mr Masters said that it was timely to look elsewhere. He added that a positive meeting with representatives of the Singapore Sports Hub in 2013 helped to seal the deal to bring the event here.
All four matches of the Barclays Asia Trophy will take place at the 55,000-seater National Stadium. The venue is the centrepiece of the S$1.3-billion Sports Hub complex, which opened its doors last year.
Mr Masters recognised the fact that the EPL remains the most popular and most-watched football league in Singapore and across most of Asia, with many fans supporting the top clubs such as Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea.
Besides making sure that the league maintains its high standard of football and providing quality TV broadcasts to fans around the world, he spoke of how social media was becoming more important to reach out to the masses.
"We have a big digital platform tapping on social media networks so that we can deliver localised content to our fans. We want to give the fans what they want to see, and we'll do this locally and by working in tandem with our EPL clubs," he said.
With this year's Barclays Asia Trophy taking place just 24 days before the start of the 2015/16 EPL season in England, Mr Masters gave the assurance that the three visiting clubs would field their strongest teams in Singapore.
Arsenal's star-studded squad boasts the likes of Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud, while Everton has household names including Romelu Lukaku and Gareth Barry.
Stoke, which thrashed Liverpool 6-1 on the final day of the 2014/15 season 11 days ago, is expected to bring its stars such as Peter Crouch, Charlie Adam and Peter Odemwingie.
"As with all pre-season tournaments, it's about (using the) squads. We fully expect all of our three clubs to bring their strongest available squads, and to feature most, if not all, their star names at some point during the tournament," said Mr Masters.
"That's historically what's happened in every Asia Trophy we have hosted so far. All the big names that are expected to play will do so, unless there is an injury or a very good reason otherwise," he added.
The first match of the tournament will see Everton take on Stoke on July 15, followed by Arsenal's match against the Singapore Select team later that day. The losing teams will meet in a third-place play-off on July 18, followed immediately by the final.
The inaugural Asia Trophy was held in 2003 in Malaysia and the competition has since been staged in Thailand (2005), China (2009) and Hong Kong (2007, 2011 and 2013).
This article was first published on June 4, 2015.
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