28 October 2016
John Tsang was quick to congratulate Leicester and its manager on Facebook after their big win. Photo: HKEJ, Facebook/John Tsang
John Tsang was quick to congratulate Leicester and its manager on Facebook after their big win. Photo: HKEJ, Facebook/John Tsang

If you want to be chief executive, watch football

There aren’t many similarities between Hong Kong and Leicester, but John Tsang Chun-wah knows how to tell a story in his favor.

Upon Leicester City Football Club winning the championship of the widely followed English Premier League for the first time in its 132-year history, our financial secretary wasted no time in sharing the big news on Facebook.

“Well done Leicester City! Congratulations to Ranieri and the Foxes!” Tsang wrote.

“Definitely one of the greatest achievements in sporting history!”

The popular government official told a group of students in March to overcome their difficulties just like team Leicester, which barely managed to avoid falling out of the league last year and turned the impossible into a possibility.

At around the same time, when Tsang was asked in a Ming Pao forum to draw a comparison between Hong Kong and a football team, he said he hoped to be Leicester, without elaborating.

Now Tsang can claim credit for picking the winner, although one could say it was an easy prediction given Leicester was leading in March — but not in August, when the odds of it winning were set at 1,000 to 1.

Football has become a lucky pastime for Tsang, a potential candidate for Hong Kong’s next chief executive and probably the public’s choice, as well.

He showed up for a Hong Kong national team game last year and offered encouraging words to the team for its match against the China national team.

By contrast, incumbent Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying chose not to pick a side in that contest.

Less than a year before the election of the person who will rule Hong Kong beyond 2017, Tsang is keeping his followers guessing.

The man who was seen as receiving President Xi Jinping’s blessing with a prolonged handshake a year ago has never admitted his intention to run, but he has been doing everything else to try to improve his popularity.

His joke-cracking, ordinary-Hongkonger style is in sharp contrast to that of his poker-faced boss, who is the target of media criticism at every opportunity.

On Tuesday, World Press Freedom Day, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) condemned Leung for his 10 crimes in limiting press freedom. That came right after the chief executive signed a declaration to protect press freedom.

Last week, Leung publicly condemned Next Magazine for infringing his daughter’s privacy on the Stanford University campus. That came right after he presented the Newspaper Society Awards, where he vowed to protect press freedom as a core value of Hong Kong.

By contrast, when Tsang attended the annual dinner of the HKJA, reporters, businessmen and politicians gave their thumbs up for his performance on talk shows last year.

They may not immediately see why Tsang compares Leicester to Hong Kong, the international reputation of which has suffered from its close economic and political ties with mainland China.

What he did not spell out was the key factor behind Leicester’s transformation from worst to first — the club’s changing of its manager to Claudio Ranieri.

That may be why he specifically congratulated Ranieri – a hint to his followers as to how Hong Kong could be like Leicester after next year.

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EJ Insight writer

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