'End of journey' as Cordeiro plays last HK game
A long-time servant of Hong Kong soccer bids farewell to fans today as Sunray Cave Sun Hei defender Cristiano Cordeiro makes his last appearance at Mong Kok Stadium.
The 3.30pm testimonial match, featuring Cordeiro's teammates past and present, rounds off the career of the Brazilian, who has spent his best years in Hong Kong since his arrival as a young player in 1998.
Joining domestic powerhouses South China at 24, Cordeiro established himself over the years as one of the league's best centre-halves. During his 14 years in Hong Kong, he won the Footballer of the Year award twice, once with South China in 2001 and the other with Sun Hei in 2005.
'A journey will come to an end no matter how long it takes, and although I'll miss a lot of things in Hong Kong, it's time to say goodbye,' said the emotional defender (pictured), now 38. 'There are a lot of people, a lot of things that I'll never forget during these years.
'I have given the best years of my soccer career to Hong Kong, but in return I have also earned a lot, some of [which] will last forever, such as friendship.'
In the 2004-05 season, Cordeiro helped Sun Hei to a clean sweep of all domestic trophies, the league and all three cups. 'That was the best moment of my career in Hong Kong,' he said. 'Sun Hei also represented Hong Kong in the AFC Cup the following season and made it to the semi-finals. How wonderful it was!' He intended to leave Hong Kong last summer, after his family returned to Brazil, but could not resist one last season. And it was a successful stint, as he helped Sun Hei clinch the Senior Shield title after upsetting his former club South China in the penalty shoot-out following a 1-1 draw in 120 minutes.
'The trophy has special meaning for me, as I won the Shield the first season I joined South China and made it again in the last season before I leave,' he said.
Retired Hong Kong player Lee Kin-wo paid tribute to his former teammate.
'We played together for nine years, five seasons with South China and then four seasons with Sun Hei. I have never seen him play without giving a hundred per cent. He is a role model for every player.'
On his departure, Cordeiro's advice to Hong Kong soccer is to give more opportunities to the young players.
'You have to work with the kids, or there will no future,' he said.
'You need to implement a system [in which] the young players can aspire to become professional players, which means you need to give them opportunities when they are young and security when they have retired. It takes time but it is something that Hong Kong must do if you want to see the game flourish again.'
The Brazilian said he had plans to join First Division side Internacional, where he started out as a youth player, as their youth coach.
'I may need to take some courses back home before I am qualified for the job. If I can't settle in, I may return to Hong Kong,' he joked.