Caroliners look at another Premier League star

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 March, 2011, 12:00am

South China boss Steven Lo Kit-sing said the Hong Kong champions were keen to sign another English Premier League player to bolster their squad for the Asian Football Confederation Cup campaign, but that the Caroliners would first have to reach the quarter-finals.

'I am expecting our gate receipts to rise in the knockout stages of the AFC Cup so that will give us the budget to sign more quality players,' Lo said yesterday, ahead of the team's departure for Thailand, where they take on Chonburi in a group game tomorrow.

'We have already spoken to a number of players in England and I will meet some of them when I go there next month. But whether we sign a player depends on us reaching the quarter-finals because we are talking about a big investment.

'One of the players we spoke to is playing in the Premier League and he's demanding a contract for at least one season. You can imagine how much that will cost.'

More than 20,000 fans turned up when the Caroliners defeated Neftchi of Uzbekistan 1-0 at Hong Kong Stadium in the AFC Cup quarter-finals in 2009. In the semi-finals against Kuwait SC, a record 37,400 people attended the match, earning South China gate receipts of HK$2 million. It was the biggest crowd for a competitive match in Hong Kong, not including exhibitions against overseas teams. The previous record was a First Division title play-off between South China and Instant Dict, watched by 31,100 fans in 1996.

'I am confident the fans will come to support us, but the team must first make it to the quarter-finals and beyond,' Lo said. 'That's why I am pressing them hard for a win against Chonburi because we have to prove we are superior in the group stage. Otherwise, how can we tackle the much tougher teams from the Middle East in the later rounds?

'I know the standard of Thai football and how much they pay their foreign players ... it's certainly not as much as us. Chonburi were held by East Bengal of India in their opening match, which means they are not particularly strong. We certainly have the quality to beat them.'

The AFC Cup round of 16 will be played immediately after the group stage in May, but the quarter-finals will not start until September. Clubs are allowed to change their foreign players once they have reached the quarter-finals.

That could mean added pressure for South China's two ex-Premier League players - Mateja Kezman and Nicky Butt - to perform.

South China had a light workout at Happy Valley yesterday with Hong Kong international Kwok Kin-pong the only player missing because of a gastric problem. However, the midfielder should be fine for the Chonburi match, according to coach Chan Ho-yin.

'We know the importance of the match,' Chan said. 'But this is an away game so we have to be careful. We need to defend well, but our target remains a win for sure.'

Former Chelsea forward Kezman is expected to start on the left wing with Hong Kong international Chan Siu-ki the lone striker. Former Manchester United star Butt will play in midfield, while centre-half Joel Bertoti Padilha has overcome a shoulder injury and will start in defence.