KING OF THE KOP – JOHN BARNES INTERVIEW – Liverpool and England Football Legend

First Published at Offside.hk

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By Christopher KL Lau and JRP Borthwick

For his legendary footballing pedigree, the Liverpool legend, John Barnes, is very much the larger than life personality you would expect him to be and much more. Beyond the exquisite footballing skills is an astute observer of the modern game who is both personable and articulate and happy to share his experiences and his opinions of the game he so clearly still loves. It is through his out-going persona, that despite having retired a while ago now, he is still beloved by football fans the world over and this was very evident this past weekend in Hong Kong as Barnes was the big name star attraction at this weekend’s Liverpool FC Soccer Clinic, which was organized by Standard Chartered, the club’s sponsor. Here, Barnes and four Liverpool FC International Academy coaches passed on knowledge and wisdom to wide eyed Hong Kong youngsters eager to develop their own skills. The English Premier League is huge in Hong Kong and Liverpool have a devoted fan base and will always draw in fans young and old.

From Jamaica to Watford to being a pioneering footballer for both Liverpool and England who once danced around the Brazilian defense in the Maracana to dazzling a global audience at Italia 1990, John Barnes has packed several lifetimes into one. Since retirement, Barnes has devoted himself to both media and charity work and this includes football clinics promoting the Liverpool way to their global fan base. During a recent lunch discussion in Hong Kong, Barnes, through strength of his charisma of course held court as he discussed a whole plethora of issues ranging from the current Liverpool team to the attitudes of young players in England and how the lack of direction and hunger is stifling the development of a new generation of stars.

Early on in the discussion Barnes touched on Liverpool’s latest super star signing, manager Jürgen Klopp. He feels that Klopp will be given the breathing space that other managers may not receive because of his strong status and solid track record. He stated that “the harmony in Liverpool right now is good”, which he felt would translate into trust and time for the German rock star manager. He did say, however, that he felt Klopp needed to strengthen the squad for next season.

Barnes went on to talk about how fans of a number of the big clubs reminisce about the old ways such as the Manchester United way, the Liverpool way. Barnes said people “needed to stop comparing with the past”. What has to happen at Liverpool now, he said, is “the Jürgen Klopp way, because Jürgen Klopp is the manager”.  He also took a moment to bemoan the relentless chase for cash observed in the current game. Barnes noted the recent trend of relatively young players taking up big money offers in some of the wealthy emerging football nations like Qatar and China. He said it made him question their integrity as “they were going for the money”, not the football.

The conversation rounded up with Barnes’s predictions for the upcoming European championships. He felt it is “wide open” but that consistency was vital. He commented that a number of teams have it in them to pull a one-off result, but that putting together a last 16, quarter final, semi-final and then final run of wins was another matter altogether and as such he expects the “usual suspects” of France, Germany and Spain to come out as victors.

Astute, intelligent and witty, his playing days are long over and a wonderful memory for millions, though for John Barnes, wherever he goes in the world, he is definitely still the King of the Kop.

John Barnes went onto share more thoughts with offside.hk

Given James Vardy’s progression from non-league football to the Premier league, do you think if he played in your era, he would have progressed much faster?

No, James Vardy is a very unique case because playing where James Vardy did, he wasn’t a player who had played at big clubs and not made it, he had been playing non-league football for a long time and lower division football and non league football is still about that ‘type’ of football, so the image of him and Kane sitting on the bench for Leicester in 2013; I just think it has been an incredible season and would we expect Jamie Vardy now to be doing this every season and the next season and scoring all those goals? Possibly not, it has just been an incredible time.

Playing in my time; lets put it this way, because of the majority of teams and the way they played in my time then yes, because of the directness of football, where as in recent years, in England, we have tried to say, ‘lets play like Spain’ with loads of passes and Jamie Vardy doesn’t suit that whereas Leicester suits him so Jamie Vardy can play for Leicester and score those goals.

I don’t think he (Vardy) could do that for Arsenal; I don’t think he could do that for Manchester United and I don’t think he could do that for another team. It is just that the football at Leicester suits him so forget James Vardy as there is also the rest of the team. Trevor Morgan is thirty two, Robert Huth, Danny Simpson, Drinkwater played at Manchester United reserves. They are not young so it is not like they were young kids not being given an opportunity and now they are showing their worth who are now coming to end of their careers and they are now going to win the league. They can’t go onto other clubs and be superstar players as no one is going to sign them; they found a ‘hole’ whereby there is a type of football which is still valid in terms of being direct, being strong and being committed whereas the emergence of the foreign players and managers in the Premier league means they (teams) are looking for special players who could play for Barcelona and managers who talk about tactics like one hundred passes in midfield.

Claudio Ranieri’s been very good at being good at just leaving it and saying ‘just go ahead’ while (Nigel) Pearson has to take a lot of credit as well as Claudio Ranieri is taking it on but I think Vardy has to find the right type of football which suits him.

I think he embodies the Liverpool philosophy. Not necessarily on the field but the relationship he has with the fans and the humility he has. I like the fact that he does not go around in a three piece suit and he is not clean shaven and he looks a little unkempt; ‘Scousers’ are like that and he is one of us! He is down to earth and he loves the relationship he should have with the fans.

Many people said that after the West Brom game, after they drew two all in the last minute, that it was a disgrace (to celebrate at the end of the game with fans) as scoring a last minute equalizer against West Brom is a disgrace when what he is trying to say, like Bill Shankly said, you want fans to support us even when we are not doing well and if the fans support us then that is why we came back to draw two all and that’s why when Liverpool were 3-1 down to Dortmund, if the fans did not support us, we would not have come back to win that game. It is important to have that relationship with the fans but we know what football is like as there is always a honeymoon period and the honeymoon period has been great but we have not been really consistent.

Unfortunately, we know what football is like; if all of a sudden half way through the season, we still are where we are, fans will get disappointed but at this moment in time, although we aren’t’ where we want to be; yes, we are Europa league but in terms of consistency in the league, the fans are still supporting him but like the England team, I would give England two years and then put pressure on them to perform. This year I didn’t put any pressure on them (Liverpool) at all because coming in ten games into the season is not ideal as any manager would want a pre-season with the players and implement his strategy, style and system and get the players in so this is why next year, I would expect much more in terms of consistency.

Thank You!

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INTERVIEW WITH PATRIK BERGER – LIVERPOOL LEGEND

First Published at Offside.hk
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Feted as one of the greatest and most skillful midfield players of his generation, Patrik Berger will always be remembered as one of the players who inspired the underdogs, the Czech Republic, all the way to the final of Euro 1996 where he scored in the final though they ended up losing to Germany. Berger’s form in that that tournament made the world take notice of his abilities and he secured a dream move to Liverpool and the rest, as they say is history as Berger’s silky skills and keen eye for goal entertained crowds up and down the Premier League for the best part of over a decade with further stints at Portsmouth, Aston Villa and Stoke.

Patrick Berger is in Hong Kong for the Soccer Sevens www.hksoccersevens.com and will play for the Citi All Stars teamover the coming weekend.

Recently, Berger kindly shared his views and opinions on Hong Kong, Liverpool and the Czech Republic.

Have you been to Hong Kong before and what are you expecting from the Soccer Sevens tournament ?

Well I have been to Hong Kong before. This is my third time in Hong Kong and what do I expect? Haha, I don’t know as I have never played in a seven aside tournament before though it should be fun.

You were part of the amazing Czech Republic team that reached the Euro 1996 final; looking back, did you think you would get that far and how will the Czech Republic do in the upcoming tournament? 

Well, you know there is a little similarity I think because in Euro 1996, the majority of the players were young and we played in the Czech league and we did not have any big stars and no one knew who we were and now the current Czech team does not really have big stars either and they are hungry and they are hungry for success and I am sure they want to show that they belong to the European Championships and as a team they play pretty well so I think they can do really well.

I read somewhere that when you were first signed for Liverpool that you felt that you had achieved all your dreams. Was your time at Liverpool, just one long ‘dream’ experiencing all those moments there?

It was a dream move for me to go to Liverpool and I was absolutely buzzing and I managed to stay there for seven years but when you play and when you are there, it is your job so you do what you have to do and we love to play football so to be able to work and play for Liverpool was like doing my hobby and to play my hobby for Liverpool was absolutely awesome. I didn’t realize, until recently, when I retired how big Liverpool Football Club is and I am proud that I am part of their history.

You scored many fantastic goals in your career. Which remains your favorite?

Probably the best goal I scored was when I was playing for Portsmouth. I scored a good goal against Manchester United as well though I don’t really rate goals like that but probably the goal for Portsmouth was the one.

Thank you 

INTERVIEW – VLADIMÍR ŠMICER – LIVERPOOL LEGEND

First Published at Offside.hk
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Vladimír Šmicer was a long term mainstay and driving force for the Czech Republic and Liverpool though he is synonymous and will be forever associated with the one of the greatest sports moments in history, namely, Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League victory over AC Milan in Istanbul.

Šmicer has had a long and distinguished career for both club and country though his goal for Liverpool in the 2005 final, still remains an amazing memory for both him and countless millions of others around the world.

Šmicer is in Hong Kong to play in the Hong Kong Soccer

Sevenswww.hksoccersevens.com for the Citi All Stars team over the coming weekend. Šmicer took time to chat about his experiences in Hong Kong and how he thinks Liverpool will do in the upcoming season.

This is your first Hong Kong Soccer Sevens. Have you been to Hong Kong before and what are you expecting from your playing time here and Hong Kong itself?

Yes, I have been to Hong Kong before and actually a few times already. The first time I was here was in 2003 with Liverpool as we had a pre-season game here and we played against a Hong Kong select eleven and I have been here a few times with friends just visiting but now after a long time, I have come back to play in the Hong Kong Sevens and we will see how it goes.

I have heard the Soccer Sevens is a big tournament with a youth tournament and older teams playing as well, I think it is going to be very competitive and the pitch is big and we are not fit as we used to be so it can be very tough for us.

Unfortunately Liverpool lost  in the Europa League, do you think despite that, Liverpool can really challenge for the title next season?

Yes, it was a pity that they (Liverpool) lost as this means Liverpool will not be playing in the Champions League next season so that is a big disappointment. I think I am positive regarding the future because I think Jurgen Klopp brings a lot of new things to Liverpool and he can get the best out of the players and if he can sign two to three good players then Liverpool can challenge for the title for sure. We can look at Leicester as no one expected them to be so good but they are. I wish we can be in the top three next season.

You have so many incredible achievements in your football career, surely the most outstanding one for you was scoring in the Champions League Final in 2005?

Yeah, that was my highlight as it was at the end of my career, well not at the end but close to the end of my career. I was 32 years old and winning the Champions League with Liverpool, after a game like that in Istanbul was definitely a highlight of my career.

Thank you!

KITCHEE’S DREAM RUN ENDS; HONG KONG OUT OF ASIAN GAMES 2014

First Published herehttp://wildeastfootball.net/2014/10/kitchees-dream-run-ends-hong-kong-out-of-asian-games-2014/

Photos Published here:  https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.851540901545730.1073741860.120373637995797&type=1

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Kitchee Squander Golden Chance To Reach AFC Cup Final

Kitchee’s dream run to the AFC Cup Semi-finals is now over. With the away goal, a capacity crowd and home advantage, Kitchee were clearly favorites in the second leg of the semi-finals yet nerves clearly got the better of them and they threw away all hopes after conceding two soft goals within the first nine minutes of the first half. From there on they had to constantly chase the game to no avail.

Abril weathered the frenzied atmosphere to hold onto their lead. The Iraqis settled much faster than the home team and their difficult task ahead was made easier on the 3rd minute when they were awarded a free-kick from twenty yards out which Ali Atiyah converted. The shot was on target but should have been saved and slipped in between the post and Kitchee goalkeeper Wang Zhenpeng. This made it 1-2 to Abril. The visitors took advantage of Kitchee’s lack of composure and unease and made it a two-goal lead on the 9th minute when Amjed Radhi’s looping header nestled into the side of the net. Kitchee now had the momental task of overhauling the two goal deficit and scoring three goals due to the away goals rule. Kitchee slowly recovered from this incredible set back and regained their composure and resorted back to their well known quick passing game. Both sides had close half chances as the game went on but Abril were still in control.

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The second half saw a momentum shift with Kitchee taking the game to Abril and trying to claw back their dignity and pride and even stage one of the greatest comebacks of all time! Kitchee’s Tarres took the game to Abril in the 48th minute with his low drive and shot which was well saved by the Abril keeper Jalal Hachim. In the 68th minute, a Lo Ka Wai corner caused confusion in the box and Gao Wen was first on hand to poke the ball home. It was now 1-2 on the night. The crowd urged Kitchee team forward and each corner, free kick and attack was met with heightened expectations. Hachim pulled off another great save on the 72nd minute when he clawed away Xu Deshuai’s diving header. As the game progressed, Kitchee pressed forward and left wide open spaces to be exploited but they defended resolutely. Kitchee’s Jang Kyungjin had his injury time header cleared off the line and the game ended with all players slumping to the ground in exhaustion. It was a stirring fightback but too little too late.

Abril have made to the the AFC cup final where they will now play Al Qadsia in the final. Sports and politics always intertwine so there were several banners of support for the Hong Kong protests and a period of applause from some sections of the crowd in acknowledgement of the current situation in the city. Kitchee played some nice football through the group and knock out stages and will no doubt bounce back from this disappointment.

Hong Kong Knocked Out of the Asian Games:

Hong Kong strong run to the Asian games (Incheon) knock out stages is over after a comprehensive defeat to South Korea. Lee Yong-Jae, Park Coo-Ho and Kim Jin-Su all got on the score sheet in an one sided game. Hong Kong were a shadow of the side they were in the group stages where they defeated Bangladesh, Afghanistan and drew with a strong Uzbekistan team. Hong Kong’s highlight in the tournament was their equalizer against Uzbekistan scored by Philip Chan.

Hong Kong Premier League Continues:

The Hong Kong Premier League is still in its early days and Sun Pegasus are the early pace setters with two wins out of two over I Sky Yuen Long and Wong Tai Sin. Many games have been delayed or postponed due to Hong Kong’s involvement in the Asian games. Normal fixtures will resume in October.

Once in a Life Time and Never Again. Hong Kong’s South China’s Epic 2009 AFC Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg against Kuwait SC

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First Published here: http://wildeastfootball.net/2014/09/afc-cup-preview-special-south-chinas-2009-brush-with-continental-glory/

Hong Kong football stands on the cusp of one of its greatest achievements – Kitchee are just 90 minutes away from the AFC cup final following an away 1-1 draw to Iraq’s Erbil this week. With the second leg of the semi at Mong Kok stadium just two weeks away, Hong Kong correspondent

Christopher KL Lau looks back to the city’s last huge night in continental football when South China fell at the final hurdle.

The local media first issued the simple yet effective battle cry “Wear red and go and support South China”. From there the momentum stirred and the message was repeated and drummed in. On October 21, 2009, something truly amazing happened, local Hong Kong fans heeded the call and descended to Hong Kong stadium in their tens of thousands. The occasion ? The rare opportunity to see the most popular team in the city, South China, attempt to overhaul a 2-1 first leg loss to Kuwait SC in the AFC Cup semi-finals 2009. For local fans starved of truly meaningful and competitive matches, this was basically an once in a lifetime opportunity to savor a grand occasion and urge (scream) the people’s club to reach the final of an Asian-wide competition. Hong Kong fans may support club teams in nations thousand of miles away but the domestic game still stirs interest and many are still emotionally and spiritually tied to the teams they watched before the ascent of cable TV and live overseas games saw a dramatic drop in attendance.

The first leg of the semi-final saw South China fall 2-1 but they secured the crucial away goal; it was now simple; win 1-0 at home and they would be guaranteed a place in the AFC Cup final and be the first Hong Kong team to reach the final in the competition’s history. South China had navigated the group stages with relative ease and scored some dramatic victories in the knock out stages. With each win, the crowds grew exponentially larger and when the “Caroliners” won their quarter-finals, the anticipation and expectations exploded beyond all belief and expectations and the ingredients for a grandstand finish were all in place; home advantage, city’s most popular team and a very achievable target of at least scoring one goal.

To top it all off, 40,000 South China fans packed out the stadium and except for handful of Kuwait SC fans, the noise echoed and reverberated from the stands. The stadium was a sea of red and the infamous South stand of the stadium was pretty much standing room only as the most hard core of fans stirred up a frenzy. Thousands of fans were unable to get tickets at the gates and had to rush to the nearest bar or restaurant showing the game. Sure, there have been sell out crowds in the past though the majority were for friendlies where the stakes were low and the results ultimately rendered meaningless. On this night, thousands of fans were locked outside; unseen and basically unheard of at a Hong Kong game whereby normally fans can have entire rows or sections to themselves if they so wish. That night, there was not a single seat left empty; from the corporate boxes to the east, west, north and south stands, everything was taken and a simple ‘full house’ sign was placed up outside when the final ticket was sold.

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The match itself was tight given the end prize at hand. Kuwait SC had a pressing passing game which caught South China short a few times but for some fine saves from Zhang Chunhui, the game would have been out of South China’s reach. Throughout the rest of the first period, South China’s Brazilian striker Leandro Carrijó had several half chances and a disputed penalty claim but nothing which threatened to break the deadlock. Carrijo had been decisive in the quarter-final second leg win over the Uzbekistan side, Neftchi, and Kuwait SC tracked him closely. Kuwait SC knew they could break away and counter attack as South China needed to get that decisive goal to bring the tie back to 2-2 to progress on the away goal. In the second half, chances fell to striker Leandro Carrijó who had the chance to be a national hero and write himself into Hong Kong sporting folklore but luck was not on his side. Each attack, corner or shot was greeted with bated breath with the normally hard to please fans urging the home side to press forward.

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Carrijo was also involved in the most decisive moment of the game; in the 70th minute, he backed heeled the ball in the Kuwait SC penalty area to his teammate Li Haiqiang who toe poked the ball past the Kuwait SC goalkeeper sparking scenes of total yet short lived pandemonium. The goal was deemed offside by the closet of margins much to the severe indignation of 99% of the stadium. This lead to the linesman unfortunately running the gauntlet of being pelted by water bottles. South China were unsettled and Kuwait SC’s Ismail Sulaiman scored the decisive blow and placed the visitors ahead 1-0 on the night and 3-1 overall. The stadium fell into a deathly silence as the fans knew the game was beyond them. Yet, after the initial shock the fans gathered themselves and continued to drive the home team forward but it was too little too late and upon the final whistle many still hung around safe in the knowledge that they had been part of and witnessed something unique and special. Fans knew South China had gone beyond expectations and their own limits to stage the grandest of shows and cheered the team off the pitch.

A few weeks later, the Hong Kong Olympic side won the East Asian games title (against Japan) again in-front of a packed out crowd at Hong Kong stadium while this victory sent the city into wild celebrations yet, for many, this semi-final loss still endures and remains in the collective memory much longer; it could have been the long-meandering journey that South China took to that fateful night, it could have been the fervent and frenzied full house atmosphere or it could have been the many what-ifs that were played out that night or it could have been the honorable way that South China fought and were ultimately defeated that stirred people’s emotions. For many fans, it is very hard to quantify and discern and each to their own opinions but for many who have seen the slow and gradual decline of local football, this marked an example of what could be achieved and the potential to reach greater heights. This match also represented something rarely seen in the city in a sporting, social, economic or cultural sense; for a city which has slowly developed its own unique identity, there are still many divisions. On a daily basis, politics and the ever-widening economic gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ threatens to polarize society but here, for once, all opinions were seemingly set aside with everyone uniting behind one cause.

On September 30th, local champions Kitchee will play their AFC Cup semi-final 2nd leg (1-1 after the first leg) at the much smaller capacity Mong Kok stadium. Kitchee for all their titles do not have the long storied history that South China can boast of but for the sake of the local game, hopefully the fans will come out, fill Mong Kok to capacity and cheer them onto the final.

Will Hong Kong sports ever again witness and experience such a night like the delirious, frenetic and soul stirring one seen at Hong Kong stadium on October 21st, 2009? Once in a lifetime and never again……..

All pictures courtesy of the HKFA

HONG KONG ROUND UP: AFC CUP FOR KITCHEE, ARGENTINA TICKET SALES BEGIN

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First Published – http://wildeastfootball.net/2014/08/hong-kong-round-up-afc-cup-for-kitchee-argentina-ticket-sales-begin/

Hong Kong champion’s Kitchee endured unrelenting pressure from Vietnamese side Vissai Ninh Binh and a 1-0 home loss to still progress 4-3 over the two legged quarter-finals of the AFC Asia Cup. Cheered on by a near capacity crowd in the enclosed Mongkok stadium and holding onto a 4-2 away win, Kitchee held off Ninh Binh who were intent on bringing the game to Kitchee and score the three goals they required to progress. The game had been overshadowed by the ugly face of corruption with Ninh Binh’s progress being deemed remarkable given a match fixing scandal which has ruined the club’s reputation and has seen about nine senior players arrested or given suspended jail sentences. Taking the place of the senior players, have been spirited youngsters who have exceeded all expectations and simply making the AFC Cup quarter-finals has been an achievement in itself.

Vissai Ninh Binh had a glimmer of hope after the Nigerian Suleiman Oladoja side footed the ball gently into the net in the 28th minute after the ball bounced back off a post. In the 44th minute, Oladoja nearly had a second but smashed his shot off the bar with no one able to follow the rebound. Kitchee soaked up the pressure and broke away on counterattacks when they could but they did well to stave off the visitor’s high tempo game and Ninh Binh were urged to attack at every possible moment by their management team. In the second half, Kitchee’s Lam Ka-Wai and Jorge Tarre came close to extending Kitchee’s lead with Lam seeing his chip saved in the 67th minute and Tarre’s header crashing onto the bar in the 84th minute. The Kitchee fans were fervent in their support and the never ending drums and chants enhanced the atmosphere no end.

Kitchee will now play their semi-final first and second legs on September 16th and 30th respectively. The second leg will be played at Hong Kong Stadium and if the crowds decide to come out in force to support Kitchee as they did for South China whom reached the same stage of the competition in 2009 then expect a rare full house.

Argentina Tickets On Sale to the Public

In other news, tickets have gone on sale for the much-hyped visit of Argentina who will play the Hong Kong national side on October 14th. With the Hong Kong Football Association celebrating its one hundredth anniversary, it is definitely pulling out the stops to make it a party to remember with the guests being the powerhouse Argentina national side.

The cost of bringing the world cup runners-up to Hong Kong is immense and this has been reflected in the ticket prices which reach a staggering HKD$1,800 (USD$232) for the best seats in the main lower tier stands. The cheapest tickets have been priced at HKD$490 (USD$63). There is no doubt that the seats will be filled as the prospect of seeing global superstar Messi is a huge incentive for many Hong Kong football fans who have been starved of quality players and teams for years; though the prices may still be too high for many people who may opt not to attend. A full capacity Hong Kong stadium with the biggest names in football would make for a memorable evening.

New Sponsor for the Hong Kong Premier League 

Meanwhile. the long search for a new sponsor for Hong Kong’s new premier league is now over with BOC Group Life Assurance stepping up and providing the financial clout which will enable the much vaunted and highly anticipated Premier League to kick off in September. Speculation has been rife about whom the title sponsors would be and after long drawn out talks, a solution has been found. The opening fixtures have also been announced and the first set of games will kick off in early September. The jury has been out on the new Hong Kong premier league so local fans will be able to make their own judgement very soon.
Hong Kong Premier League Opening Fixtures decided:

September 12 – Kitchee vs Wofoo Tai Po, Mongkok Stadium

September 14 – I-Sky Yuen Long vs Rangers, Yuen Long Stadium

HONG KONG FA CHIEF: WE WANT TO ENTER CHINESE FA CUP

First Published Here: http://wildeastfootball.net/2014/07/hong-kong-fa-chief-we-want-to-enter-chinese-fa-cup/

In a wide-ranging exclusive interview, Hong Kong FA Mark Sutcliffe reveals his belief that entering a team from the SAR into the Chinese FA would be an ideal first step towards some integration with the Mainland Chinese football system. The suggestion that a Hong Kong team may one day play in the CSL has been mooted several times in the past, but nothing solid has ever materialized. The HKFA’s remarks are the clearest indication yet that there is a willingness to make this happen in Hong Kong, on an official level at least, and are timely given that the business end of the CFA cup starts this week.

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WEF Hong Kong correspondent Christopher KL Lau met with Sutcliffe for an in-depth chat about the state of the game in Hong Kong, the new Hong Kong Premier League, Argentina’s national team’s forthcoming visit and the World Cup.

Upon reflection, how was the 2013-2014 football season for you? Did the season fulfill your expectations and reach any goals targeted?

The first thing I would probably say is that there were some disappointments. The fact that we had to suspend two teams from the league was a disappointment. Aside from that, I think there was a good standard of football played; by Kitchee in particular. They won the league by sixteen points and other than that, it was good to see other teams coming to the fore, Eastern winning the FA Cup for example and I thought the playoffs were very good and the standard of football played was very good. Earlier in the season, we had South China in the playoffs for the AFC champions League and that was positive and indicates things moving in the right direction and Kithee have also qualified for the quarter finals of the AFC Cup. So it’s a mixture of good and bad as you would expect for most football seasons. There are positives and negatives and the important thing is now we have a basis for the Premier League for next season. This season was always going to be a transitional year.

The HKFA needs up to HKD100 million annually in order for Project Phoenix to fulfill all its goals. Is this number justifiable? Why is the government seemingly so reluctant to assist the city’s most popular game?

I am not sure where the one hundred million (Hong Kong) figure came from to be honest. That’s quite an erroneous number. I won’t bore you with the long story of where the number came from. I think it was something quoted by one of the papers and they got it when I said that one percent of the net revenue from football betting would generate one hundred million. That was not me saying what we need. I have produced a new five year plan and the additional money that we to deliver the entire strategic plan is less than fifty million (HK) more than what we have been getting to date. So in-fact it is not one hundred million (Hong Kong), its less than half of that of what we actually need. So we have put together a five year plan which has got a lot of aims and objectives and targets and areas where we want to improve football; these include the representative teams, youth development, women’s football, coach education and refereeing. The accumulative of that is that we probably need an increase of what we have been we have been getting of between thirty and fifty million (HK) a year for the next three to five years. This is a much more realistic figure than the one hundred million which has been banded around. I don’t think the Hong Kong government is reluctant to fund. We have more or less an agreement in principle now that the Hong Kong government will give us five years extra funding.

We presented the strategy to the football task force in May and that was received very well, we had a positive response from the task force and they said they will give us five more years extra funding. What we are doing now is negotiating over the exact amount and where the money will come from and where it will go to. We were never expecting the government to put up all that extra thirty to fifty million anyway so we have to find some of the additional money ourselves either through sponsorship or charities such as the Hong Kong Jockey club so we are looking for a number of sources of funding other than the government so we can implement the strategy.

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If money was not an issue to the Hong Kong football association, what would you first propose?

If money was no issue, I would put money into a number of different areas, certainly the premier league, the professional game; we would like to see more money going into the clubs particularly in relation to youth development and the club’s academies. I would also like to see more money going into the training and preparation of our own representative teams and the new youth academy that we have for new elite young players and our own existing ‘A’ team and our under 21s and under 23s. We need more money for them to train more frequently and with higher intensity and I would put more money into better facilities like the football training center that we have planned and obviously the big area of investment of youth development, getting more youths to play more often and having access to better facilities and coaching. It would be a nice position to be in…money no object.

The much vaunted Tseung Kwan O soccer academy recently had its ground breaking ceremony; when is the expected completion date and what aims does the HKFA have for it?

Actually the ground breaking ceremony was in relation to the Kitchee Training Centre and not the Hong Kong Football Association centre so Kitchee have had a grant from the Hong Kong Jockey Club and will be getting additional money to build the training centre specifically for Kitchee. The Tseung Kwan O training centre remains a plan on a piece of paper but we are working on a proposal now which we will submit hopefully in September which is in relation to the development of a phase one Tseung Kwan O site and we are responding to the Hong Kong government’s Chief Executive’s initiative which he has set-up in relation to the landfill site and the landfill revitalization project and they have set up a fund and we will be bidding for funding from the government to develop phase 1 of the Tseung Kwan O site so hopefully, we will be successful in that application and we will able to ideally begin work in 2015.

The proposed Premier League has a number of teams who have signed up. What will happen to the premier league if not enough teams / a minimum number of teams signs up?

We have different approaches from different clubs as you would expect. We have twelve teams in the first division this season and some have responded positively so again Kitchee and South China have worked with us last season to put in extraordinary applications for an AFC club license and were successful. Some of the other clubs have been very enthusiastic about the new Premier League because it helps them to become more professional, helps to raise the standard and enables them to possibly participate in AFC competitions as well. So we have some clubs which are very positive and some clubs which are less than enthusiastic and there are various reasons for that some of which I will not speculate on. I have some sympathy for some of the smaller clubs because they are struggling to make ends meet financially. The premier league is not requiring them to make any significant investments over and above what they have been spending at the moment. That has been certainly used as a reason why they not as enthusiastic about the premier league. Its a little bit of an incorrect premise to say that we are asking them to spend more money next year. We are not, we are actually renegotiating broadcasting arrangements to make it more cost effective for those clubs. We have had nine applications for the premier league next year so nine clubs have decided they want to be part of the league which is good.

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How many licenses are there for the premier league?

There are twelve licenses available so that is the maximum number and we have always said we would start with less teams. It about quality not quantity so we said we would start with a minimum of eight so we have achieved that objective so the new premier league will be starting in September.

Will there be a new marketing and branding campaign for the new premier league?

We will have a meeting tomorrow (at the time of the interview) to discuss marketing and branding and how to promote the new league. We are looking at merchandizing and in talks about the television deals. We want make the league different from the previous leagues but we are limited by what we can do by finances as we don’t have a major sponsor at the moment which is a disappointment.

Are you actively looking for sponsors for the new premier league?

We have a couple of organizations, we are talking too but cant divulge if a deal can be done.

About a decade ago, nations like Belgium and Germany launched widespread reforms in their footballing systems and cultures which have reaped immeasurable rewards on the international stage; ultimately does Project Phoenix have the same goals?

I think we have the same goals but if it will reach the same standards or not is another matter but clearly ‘Project Phoenix’ is about transforming football in Hong Kong and the analogy is a good one because it does take five to ten years to work everything through the system. It also takes that long to develop a good quality footballer but we do have the same objectives clearly which is about raising the standard and going through similar processes, I am familiar with the work they did and other countries as well in terms of transforming sports. Its about root and branch transformation of all the systems and structures and of the people and the resources getting better facilities and making sure that all the organizations involved in football and all the stakeholders are joined up in the same direction. Football; in Hong Kong, like some of those countries is a little fragmented so ‘Project Phoenix’ is about bringing everything together with a new strategic plan which is called “Aiming High Together”. It’s specifically named that because we are recognized as a football association, we cannot do everything ourselves, we need to work together with the other stakeholders, the government and other parties involved in delivering football through programs so that there is a coordinated and systematic framework in place so that good quality footballers can emerge from this process.

What are the positives of the Hong Kong game? What does it have going for it?

In terms of local football, the Hong Kong football association, over two and a half years has transformed itself and we have very very solid foundations. We have more resources and we are better organized. We are more effective and efficient so now we are starting to see improvements on the pitch. We have teams performing well in the Asian competitions, our U16 team has qualified for the Asian regional finals for the first time ever. At the recent Soccer 7s, our U21, U23 and Kitchee performed exceedingly well. There is now a momentum shift and I know there are some people who are still critical of ‘Project Phoenix’ but it is dying down a little bit because people can start to see the changes and start to see that the FA is different and we can also start to see things improving on the pitch and that will only build further with the new premier league. In terms of marketing, teams have transformed their approach. So for example, Sun Pegasus who play their home games in Mong Kok. If you go to their games now, the atmosphere is better, they dress the stadium, they provide more services to their fans and have match day programs and so on. The clubs are trying to react to the fact that football in Hong Kong is changing so that is positive.

Will there be a a new national stadium soon?

I would hope so. The Hong Kong government are keen to build a new stadium at Kai Tak. My hope is that they will retain the existing Hong Kong stadium and then perhaps take the top tier off so they reduce the capacity to fifteen and twenty thousand and then we would have three tiers of facility scales. We could have the new Kai Tak stadium which is either fifty to fifty-five thousand capacity on one scale and then we have Mong Kok which is on a smaller scale. If we had a fifteen to twenty thousand capacity stadium then that would be ideal. Hong Kong stadium is great if you have a Barclays Asia cup or Manchester United or Argentina but at moment it is too big. Mong Kok is better but hopefully soon it will too small for those events. We are caught between a stadium which is too big or too small.

Football is the most popular viewing and participatory sport in Hong Kong. Why is there seemingly so much inertia in developing the game here?

There maybe inertia in terms of watching local football so that is probably what the question is alluding too and you are right, our average number of spectators at games this season has been just under one thousand which when you consider there is seven and a half million people in Hong Kong, a lot of whom are passionate about local football then it does seem like a bit of a low number. I think historically, it is the result of a number of factors and we are going to address some of those and some we cant. One we can’t is that it is now possible to watch good quality football from the comfort of your own living room, You can watch the English premier league on television and we are not going to be able to compete with that in terms of quality. One thing we can do is that we can try and improve the standard of our own quality of football.

We can try and improve the experience of going to a football match through better facilities and we are trying to do that with the government. To draw people back, fans need to know and be confident that they are watching a clean match and there are steps we are taking to make sure that matches are not fixed or manipulated in anyway through our new integrity initiatives. Hopefully, this will give people confidence that they are watching a competitive match with players playing to the best of their ability. Its a combination of improved marketing, so we promote the game better, we get a better standard on the pitch, we get some good foreign players, we get some locals players with a good image and through a whole series of incremental changes, hopefully we start to generate more interest in local football and that going to take time.

Will Hong Kong ever join the Chinese Super League?

I would never say never but there are some impediments to that; so for example, we would have to decide which team would play in China. Would we have one of our existing teams or do we set up a new team? We have discussed this with the Chinese FA. They would not rule us out of joining the league but we would have to start in the lower divisions and we simply would not go in at the top tier of the Chinese Super League and it would take some time to progress if we were of the right quality to play at the higher league. We would also have to address things, like what would happen if that team got relegated out of the Chinese Super league so there are practical problems. So I think the most realistic opportunity is to enter a team into the Chinese FA Cup. It’s a good idea in principal and we are trying to develop all those relationships between ourselves and China but ultimately, the key thing is that we want to develop our independence as a member of FIFA. The closer we come (to China), we may jeopardize our own independence.

Who will win the FIFA World Cup?

Well, I have a hope that and well obviously my allegiance is with England (before World Cup at the time of the interview) as I am from England although I am not convinced that my heart would like England to win and my head says we probably wont but the other nation I would like to see do well now is Argentina as this is a result of a deal signed yesterday (at the time of the interview); Argentina is coming to Hong Kong in October for the Hong Kong Football Association’s centenary celebrations and that’s confirmed and so if Argentina come to Hong Kong as world champions then that would be fantastic!

Thank you!