Adios to 'Chino'
Kitchee footballer Roberto Rodriguez will hear the final whistle one last time tomorrow, after his swansong appearance against English Premier League side Arsenal at Hong Kong Stadium.
The 35-year-old Spanish footballer, known by his teammates and Hong Kong fans as 'Chino', has decided to retire after appearing in front of a sell-out crowd in the exhibition match.
He played a major role in helping Kitchee regain the league title in the 2010-11 season. It was their first championship win since 1963-64.
'I can say I have no regrets when looking back over my career,' he says. 'My career has lasted almost two decades, and I've done all I've wanted to do, and have had two great seasons in Hong Kong.
'Yet entering my last week as a Kitchee player has been a tough time. When I made the decision to retire, it was quite easy: I knew the day would come, sooner or later. But now it feels really difficult, knowing the time has come for me to say goodbye.'
Kitchee have organised a farewell ceremony for him after the match. 'I don't know what kind of reaction I'll have after the match. I may cry ... I will certainly miss my professional football career.'
Rodriguez will continue to live at the Tung Chung players' apartment provided by Kitchee as he starts a new stage of his footballing life on Monday - as a coach. 'I will assist the coaches training Kitchee's first team, but my main duty will be coaching at Kitchee Escola, a football school run by the club for teenagers in Hong Kong,' he says.
'I'm also hoping this season that Kitchee will win the Shield - it's the only title that I missed as a player.'
Rodriguez began his professional career in Spain, and played for Mallorca, Oviedo and Real Valladolid - winning the Spanish Second Division title in 2006-07 - before signing for Kitchee.
His outstanding performances in Kitchee's long-awaited title-winning season won him three awards - the Hong Kong Footballer of the Year, Most Popular Player and Hong Kong Star of Football as part of the team of the season.
Rodriguez captained his club last season as they not only successfully defended their league title, but also won the Hong Kong FA Cup and Hong Kong League Cup.
He scored a stoppage-time equaliser in the Cup final as they went on to win the game. The only trophy they did not win was the Hong Kong Senior Challenge Shield.
Rodriguez, who scored 17goals in 32 games for Kitchee, will be 36 in October. 'I was still in good form last season, but I think Kitchee's younger players have matured; it is time to give them a their chance.'