Soccer chiefs caught offside

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 November, 2011, 12:00am

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Sometimes, it takes an outsider to expose the rotten core within our institutions. Darren Robinson might have done just that if his bitter words truly reflect the state of affairs at the top table of the Hong Kong Football Association.

An incensed Robinson, who was recently performance coach with Nottingham Forest, peppered the HKFA's board of directors with buckshot this week, labelling them as technically incompetent among other things. Flown from the UK for the job interview of Hong Kong team manager/coach, Robinson was liberal in his criticism. The best he saved for last, saying it was an insult that during his presentation to the board, two directors fell asleep while one had the audacity to answer a telephone call.

As far as the telephone call goes, he should not be surprised. That is part and parcel of living in Hong Kong. Some people are just plain rude. You get people in cinemas having full-blown conversations.

Robinson refused to reveal the identities of the culprits. But he did single out Kitchee boss Ken Ng Kin as the only director who knew what he was doing. Robinson said he had been warned about Ng prior to coming to Hong Kong, but at the end of the day he liked Ng the most, adding that 'people don't understand what he [Ng] is trying to do'.

It is a damning indictment of the local game for an outsider to pass judgment after just one meeting with the people who are in power. First impressions count they say, and if so, this doesn't bode well for the future of Hong Kong football.

There are nine people on the HKFA's governing board - president Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak and seven directors. Of these seven, three are so-called 'independent' directors: former commissioner of police Tang King-shing, former Immigration Department director Simon Pek Yun-lu and the president of the Law Society of Hong Kong, Junius Ho Kwan-yiu.

The other four have affiliations to clubs. They are Ken Ng with Kitchee, South China chairman Steven Lo Kit-sing, Citizen's Pui Kwan-kay and TSW Pegasus' Wilson Wong Wai-shun. Together these nine men control the fate of Hong Kong football. They were all elected unopposed at the body's AGM in June. Perhaps therein lies the problem. Without opposition and an election, are you guaranteed the best people are available to serve you? Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

On paper, the nine names look imposing. But are they the best candidates to push forward the recommendations made by the government-initiated consultants who came out with the 128-page Project Phoenix report more than a year ago which was supposed to be the elixir to cure the ills of local football?

Not according to Robinson, who was one of two people interviewed for the job of Hong Kong team manager, the other being England Under-20 coach Brian Eastwick. The latter was offered the job, but turned it down. Robinson wasn't offered the job.

You might think it's a case of sour grapes but Robinson says the reason he didn't get the position was due to the tough questions he threw at them. What is more worrying is his view that the board of directors wanted to retain some control over national team selection, hinting as much during a first interview on Skype.

The whole point of Project Phoenix is to make a new start. And it is fundamental to the changes that the new chief executive and the team manager - the two highest-paid positions - should be given a free hand. They should be able to make their own decisions free of any pressures, internal or external. Yes, they must be answerable to the board, but they should be given a chance to do things their own way. Robinson felt that wouldn't be the case, which is a worry.

What is also worrying is that no decision has still been made on who will run the show. We hear that former Scottish Rugby Union chief executive Gordon McKie could become the HKFA CEO but as for the team manager, it is still up in the air. Already there are murmurs as to whether a rugby union man would be the ideal person for the job.

Meanwhile, the creation of two new posts on the coaching front - academy coach and technical director - smacks of vacillation within the HKFA. Unable to secure a suitable person for the top job, it seems the HKFA has chosen the safe option by creating middle-ranking positions.

Does it mean, with these two newly created positions, the HKFA will now lower its sights when looking at a team manager who was supposed to be in charge of everything - academy, coaching education, grassroots etc - in the first place?

Have the goalposts been moved? It certainly looks that way.