Hong Kong 'can get back into the top 100'
Newly appointed head coach Ernie Merrick insists Hong Kong can break into the world's top 100 and promised fans attractive, attacking football along the way.
Meeting the local media for the first time yesterday, the 59-year-old former coach of Australian champions Melbourne Victory appeared confident of meeting the challenges.
'I don't think anyone in Hong Kong will be happy the national team is ranked 169 so we have to improve,' said Merrick (pictured), who is on a three-year contract supported by the government's Project Phoenix to raise the standard of Hong Kong football .
'Rather than worry about the past, I am really focused on the future and I think we have a good foundation to work from.
'Although I haven't set a target yet, I believe we can move up the ladder significantly - I wouldn't be here otherwise - and to be in the top 100 is not out of the question. But it will take time as that's a long-term process.'
Merrick, who led Melbourne to two championships before parting ways in March, also promised his team would entertain.
'People do not come to the game unless they have two things happening,' he said. 'One is success and the other is entertainment. I was with Melbourne Victory for six years and we were nearly the highest-scoring team in the league. Defence is vital, and defence is your foundation, but the game is more about scoring goals and entertainment.'
Hong Kong's international players will also have to get used to a busier schedule under Merrick.
'We need to play more international matches as we cannot climb the rankings without playing on a regular basis,' he said. 'There will be a much larger international programme to increase the number of matches and get Hong Kong players used to the hustle and bustle of top-level international soccer.
'I have watched videos of the senior team and can see a very good base. I would not single out any particular player, but certainly there are three or four that are doing a good job in the national team. Their physical strength will need to improve, but the major thing is more about technical ability and strategic decision-making. Those are the areas that need to improve so that the players can become well-rounded physically, technically and tactically.'
Merrick's first match will be a friendly against Taiwan at Mong Kok Stadium on February 29. The coach said he would hold a training camp two weeks ahead of the match before picking his squad.
He said the situation in Hong Kong was very similar to that in Australia a few years ago.
'There was a change in focus in Australia six or seven years ago,' he said. 'There was a new domestic league set up and the changing of the structure and governance of Australian soccer with commitment and support from the government. We moved into the Asian Football Confederation and our ranking moved from 60th to 22nd.'