The Soccer Tournament has its first high-profile commitments for year number two, as Nani and Mario Balotelli have said they will compete in the 7-on-7, $1 million, winner-take-all contest in North Carolina this summer.
Their team, Nani FC, is the first of 48 teams that tournament organizers have confirmed will take part in the event, which uses a World Cup-style format and custom rules that require every game to end on a goal. Nani, 37, and Balotelli, 33, are currently teammates with Turkish first-division side Adana Demirspor, with both of their contracts set to expire after the season.
Nani, the former Manchester United winger and Portuguese international, caught wind of TST from former Portugal teammate Luis Boa Morte, who played in last year’s inaugural tournament as a member of the West Ham legends team.
“He sent me a link and I was watching the game and I said, ‘Oh, this is really a nice tournament, maybe we can join next time,'” Nani told ESPN. “And now here we are, ready to participate.”
Nani is still in the process of building his roster, but was able to get a quick commitment from Balotelli, the former Italy international, who has played for numerous European powers including Manchester City, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Liverpool.
“He said he will be there,” Nani said. “He likes these kind of games, 7 on 7. I told him about the tournament, I showed him some videos as well. He’s excited.”
Nani said he’s going to lean heavily into his Portuguese connections and also plans to bring retired central defender Bruno Alves, the longtime Portuguese international and current sporting director of Kreek club AEK Athens, and Manuel Fernandez, the former Benfica are Portugal midfielder.
While all four players have appeared in the World Cup, whether the star power translates to success in the tournaments, remains to be seen.
Last year, a team made up primarily of professional indoor players — Newtown Pride FC — won the tournament on a goal from Kelvin Nunes, who joined the team from Brazil. They donated a portion of their prize money to the Newtown Community Center in November. Newtown Pride is expected to attempt to defend its title.
“We know the team who won last year was a team that did not have so many famous players in the team,” Nani said. “So that means, the names don’t matter. The most important part is the physically. If the players have quality and they have energy to perform during the competition, because — I believe there is a lot of games. One after another. You need to rest.
“And I think the team who takes the competition most serious, will be the team who have more chances. I don’t believe my team will be so, so serious on that. But I believe we can show some good quality football there for the fans and the people who will follow us to enjoy.”
This year, the tournament will also feature a separate women’s tournament, which will include eight teams — one led by former U.S. international Heather O’Reilly — and also include a $1 million prize.
The tournament will be held June 5-10, at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina.