No winner in HKFA v McKie

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 May, 2012, 12:00am


Like a shooting star, Gordon McKie's reign at the Hong Kong Football Association was brief, and ended in a crash and burn. But it was nothing as spectacular as a meteor's fiery path across the sky if you believe the HKFA's point of view.

The spin doctors would have us believe McKie left his position as the first chief executive of soccer's governing body simply because of 'personal reasons'. In a brief statement issued this week, the HKFA said McKie departed because he was unable to move his family to Hong Kong. McKie, in turn, said he had 'enjoyed my short spell in Hong Kong and met some great people' but felt the time was right to leave and he 'looked forward to taking up a new challenge in due course'.

These cliches are an insult to everyone's intelligence. Only six months, the lifespan of a dragonfly, and he felt the time was right to flit away? Surely before making up his mind on taking the Hong Kong job, he would have sorted out his family issues?

Who are the HKFA and McKie trying to fool? Everyone knew the HKFA and McKie didn't see eye to eye. The only question is 'was he pushed or did he jump?' And depending on who you listen to, you would have got both versions of the story.

McKie was given plenty of opportunities to make his grievances plain but would only refer us to the HKFA. His supporters say his hands were tied ever since he took up the top position on November 21, with the responsibility of implementing the 33 recommendations made in the government-backed Project Phoenix, a 128-page document designed to put life back into the local game.

McKie's supporters say the HKFA wanted a 'yes man' as its CEO. They say that what the HKFA got instead was an independent and free spirit, unafraid to set out his own stall and take on a system steeped in amateurism with a few clubs intent on self-aggrandisement. While they promised McKie a free hand, his corner say every decision he took had to be approved by the board of directors.

On the other hand, the HKFA camp scoffed at this side of the story. It says it had hoped for a go-getter, someone who could magically mend the game's ills, but what it got was a person who dragged his feet and couldn't come up with a basic management plan. It says the former head of the Scottish Rugby Union failed to drum up support for the game in the corporate sector, despite being six months into the job.

These two versions are destined to be filed away in the FA's secret archives. Whatever the truth, there is no denying the game's image has suffered.

This sorry state of affairs has put the HKFA in a bad light. All the conspiracy theories over the power monopoly of certain clubs will surface again. It is a well-known fact the game is controlled by a handful of people. These club owners apparently had a deteriorating relationship with McKie. The rumour mill had been buzzing for the past few months with the story that the Scot was not the most popular person among the leading clubs and they were near the point of no return.

While the HKFA took pains to stress McKie had done a good job in the reorganisation of the administration, filling a number of key positions under Project Phoenix - such as a national coach, a technical director, and a coach for the academy - what they tried to hide was their unhappiness over the handling of the first international game under the new regime, the Hong Kong v Taiwan fixture in February.

That game resulted in a HK$466,000 loss for the HKFA. But in his report submitted to the board of directors, McKie stated the adjusted loss was HK$33,000. This discrepancy might have a simple answer - the way expenses were taken into account. But this, we understand, was the contentious issue which broke the camel's back and led to a parting of the ways.

Both parties continue to refuse to comment. McKie's golden handshake of HK$600,000, two month's pay, obviously included a clause of confidentiality. So he left with close to HK$2.4 million in his pocket for a six-month stay. A king's ransom by many standards.

The only lesson learned from all this is that the government, which is investing millions of dollars into the project, will have to take a more upfront role as it is public money being spent. Indeed, it is a shame they took a backseat as the charade was played out, refusing to get involved instead of telling both parties to get their act together.

To avoid a repeat, the HKFA had better make sure they get along with whoever takes over the hot seat. Time and money has been wasted. The HKFA has cemented its reputation as a laughing stock.

No one is a winner in this sorry episode. The hope and optimism Project Phoenix engendered has been squandered.