Outsiders to put our house in order
A new dawn will rise for Hong Kong soccer when the two biggest pieces in the Project Phoenix jigsaw are put in place in a couple of weeks. The two new pieces are no mere pawns. They are the chief executive and the Hong Kong team coach. Both are expected to be foreigners. For a new beginning to have a firm foundation, the local game needs outsiders who, while well versed in the running of the game, do not carry any baggage as they set about revitalising the beautiful game here.
A senior insider at the Hong Kong Football Association says that 'in the next few weeks, we will announce the two persons to run the day-to-day affairs of the HKFA [CEO] and the team [coach]'.
It is important the two people have no connections to anyone in Hong Kong, especially the clubs. They must start with a blank sheet, and make their own conclusions, free of any internecine club pressures. The new chief executive officer and the new coach must be fully independent. We believe, and trust, the headhunters assigned with the task have done the needful.
Right now, the HKFA is grappling with a shortlist of two or three names for each position. It has remained tightlipped on the identity of the applicants. As far as the coach is concerned, all we have learned is Hong Kong would have an experienced hand in charge.
'There are two strong frontrunners for the post of coach. While they are not the Bryan Robsons of the world, they are both armed with strong footballing backgrounds,' the insider said.
They will not come cheap. It is believed the pair will cost the HKFA anywhere between HK$4 million and HK$6 million annually. The government has already allocated funding for these two positions. This will be in addition to another HK$10 million or more annually for other staffing. So to get the government's Project Phoenix ball rolling - the raft of recommendations outlined in a consultancy study to revive the game - the costs for manpower alone will be more than HK$16 million.
Change agent leader Mark Sutcliffe revealed earlier this year the annual cost of the renaissance would set the government back a cool HK$28 million on top of the subvention which is given to the sport every year. So it seems more than half that cost will go to staffing. As such, it is crucial we get the right people in place.
First impressions matter. And as far as the new HKFA board of directors is concerned, it looks as if they are serious about change and adopting the 33 recommendations made in the Phoenix report.
It is heartening to see there are three fully independent people on the board - former Immigration Department director Simon Peh Yun-lu, former police commissioner Tang King-shing and the president of the Law Society of Hong Kong, Junius Ho Kwan-yiu.
These three, along with president Timothy Fok Tsun-ting (who is also the president of the Hong Kong Olympic Committee), chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak and four club representatives - Steven Lo Kit-sing (South China), Ken Ng Kin (Kitchee), Pui Kwan-kay (Citizen) and Wilson Wong Wai-shun (TSW Pegasus) make up the nine-man board.
The presence of the former police chief and immigration department chief, along with Law Society chief Ho (who stepped down from his position as president of Tuen Mun Football Club to vouchsafe his neutrality) is good for the game. For the first time we have three fully independent directors on the board who will put the game before club.
This is not to say the others are parochially minded. People like Kitchee boss Ng have sacrificed a lot, always putting country before club. No surprise then that Ng is chairman of the newly composed finance and strategy committee, one of three key committees established to drive through the 33 recommendations.
Independent director Peh is chairman of the organisation committee, while Wong is in charge of the technical and play committee, and along with Ng will steer the HKFA forward from behind the scenes. At the helm, however, will be the new chief executive.
The most important task will be putting in place a new professional league - in time for the start of the next season in 2012 - and the development of football across the board. In the meantime, the new coach will have his hands full trying to lift the fortunes of the senior side. For everything will be judged on how the national team progress.
So it is crucial we have the right people in the job.