Hong Kong football needs more than a good coach to excel

December 28, 2017 15:20
Coach Kim Pan-gon (wearing cap) gives training instructions to the Hong Kong football team. Kim's passion and professionalism contributed immensely to the team's rise in global rankings. Photo: Xinhua

News of coach Kim Pan-gon's sudden resignation from the Hong Kong national team sent shock waves across the local football circuit.

His departure, confirmed by the Hong Kong Football Association, presents a big setback to the Hong Kong team, which are set to play the qualifiers for the Asian Cup in March. The fear is that our boys may lose their focus, and their overall strategy may be affected, if the HKFA is unable to name a new mentor in such a short period of time.

Kim quit after accepting an invitation to be a member of the supervisory committee of the South Korean national team. He still had half a year left on his contract in Hong Kong, and he had suggested earlier this year that he wanted to stay on.

But his resignation is quite understandable since it would be an honor for any coach to be chosen to contribute towards the glory of his homeland.

Kim has contributed a lot in terms of building up the strength, skills and strategies of the Hong Kong team. But it cannot be denied that the nationalities of the players and the coach may pose some issues as there may be some suspicions of discrimination amid efforts by our footballers to operate as one solid team.

Last month, when Hong Kong were playing against Lebanon and Bahrain in the Asian Cup qualifiers, Kim selected only ten local players among the 23 players in the team, triggering complaints from fans and commentators that he seemed to favor foreign-born team members instead of relying more on homegrown players.

Kim was also accused of fielding too many foreign-born players in the two matches against the People’s Republic of China, which some Hong Kong fans saw as an opportunity to air their political sentiments by booing the playing of the national anthem before the start of the games.

Nonetheless, Kim’s passion and professionalism could be seen in full play as Hong Kong team's global ranking has risen in recent years.

It has been a difficult year for Hong Kong football. The South China Athletic Association withdrew from the Hong Kong Premier League and played in the lower-tier Serie A League in a bid to incubate local talents before being promoted to the top-tier league in the future.

The club's decision was interpreted as a vote of no confidence in the local professional football market. South China has been one of the most successful professional football teams in Hong Kong and its fans formed a key pillar of the local football scene. But the lack of local stars and the generally poor management of local teams led to the worsening of the Hong Kong football industry.

Kim, as a Korean professional footballer, has witnessed the ups and downs of the Hong Kong football market. He started his Hong Kong career as a player of Instant-Dict FC in the early 1990s. He then coached several local teams including South China before leading the Hong Kong national team.

In fact, the 1990s could be seen as a golden era for Hong Kong football with many prestigious firms eager to support teams such as Instant-Dict, Golden, Lai Sun, Eastern and Ernest Borel.

In recent years, however, corporates found it hard to pour resources into a sport that is characterized by poor attendance and lackluster playing. Compared to other sporting events in the city, football games failed to draw in the crowds.

Under Project Phoenix, the government has spent tens of millions of dollars to transform Hong Kong football into a more professional sport and has even built a football center to hone local talent.

But more private investment and higher-quality, better-trained players are needed to bring Hong Kong football to the next level, and create an ideal ecosystem for the growth of the sport.

Our football industry should break out of the narrow confines of the local market and form coalitions with Mainland China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. Our local players need more international exposure to improve their performance.

To be able to do that, the government and the private sector must put their money where their mouth is.

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EJ Insight writer