All change on and off the pitch for HK game

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 June, 2011, 12:00am


Acting AFC boss Zhang Jilong this week called for massive reform of the game in Asia as the Fifa pyramid was shaken to its foundation, but that revolution is already happening in Hong Kong

A raft of constitutional changes will transform the corridors of power in the most important period in the 97-year history of the Hong Kong Football Association.

At an extraordinary general meeting in April, all 84 representatives from 45 clubs voted yes to a string of constitutional changes proposed by a 'change agent', commissioned by the government to revitalise the game. The sweeping changes include the appointment of independent directors, a broader membership and a set of clear and transparent election codes.

The HKFA had long been accused of making policies behind closed doors, with many of its office bearers having vested interests due to their club backgrounds and own agendas. The standard of the Hong Kong league and the national team's performance had also been under fire from within the soccer fraternity and the community.

The government made a bold decision last year to initiate the 'Phoenix Project' but on the condition the football association must first improve its governance, including structure and administration, before it would inject millions into the sport.

With the project's first step having been completed smoothly, the government will now provide financial resources to help the association recruit a senior management team - a chief executive officer and a new Hong Kong team manager to oversee the training and competitions of the national teams. Both positions are expected to be filled in September now a head-hunting company has been appointed.

Other new positions soon to be filled include marketing and financial directors, and technical executives to help improve the standards at community level.

At the professional level, a brand new 'premier league', to be created on a franchise basis, is set to kick off in the 2012 season to replace the existing First Division.

It will be licence-based with entry criteria linked to the AFC requirements. An ad hoc group has been set up within the association to work out all details for the new 'baby'.

The new professional league cannot survive only with government support and will need resources from the commercial sector, which will be one of the major tasks for the new chief executive officer.

While there was plenty of action off the pitch, there was a shift in the balance of power on the pitch with Kitchee knocking South China off their perch and being crowned league champions for the first time in 47 years.

Spending about HK$11 million - one-third of South China's budget - Kitchee defeated the big spenders in both league encounters. They should have won the title by more than the one-point margin - their 1-0 defeat to relegated Tai Chung in December nearly costing them dear.

The championship was the perfect present to celebrate their 80th anniversary. Kitchee will represent Hong Kong in next year's AFC Cup, as well as next month's Barclays Asia Trophy, which returns to Hong Kong after four years.

South China had to be content with the League Cup and FA Cup trophies, but will be missing in Asia, as Citizen claimed the other AFC Cup spot after their stunning victory over the Caroliners in a thrilling Senior Shield final. They came from 3-0 down to force the match into a penalty shoot-out, winning 4-2.

South China's failure to reach the promised land of the AFC came at a high price having splashed the cash on two big names mid season.

Nicky Butt and Mateja Kezman joined the Caroliners in January when the transfer window reopened, but failed to deliver.

Ex-Manchester United star Butt left the team quietly in early May after South China were eliminated in the group stage of the AFC Cup - the tournament where they reached the semi-finals two years ago. Kezman also returned home to Belgrade the day after they won the FA Cup, saying he had failed to help the club achieve their targets in the championship and the AFC Cup.

Although South China convenor Steven Lo Kit-sing said the two players had raised the club's profile, he could not deny Butt and Kezman were flops. But the ambitious Lo vowed they will come back stronger next season and will still entertain bringing in players from overseas.


The amount in Hong Kong dollars that is expected to be required annually to achieve all of the change agent's recommendations