TSW Pegasus, multi-title challengers who eventually finished first runners-up in the league, will be downsized next season following a change of club policy.
Team management has decided to stop splashing the cash - more than HK$40 million over the past four seasons - and will opt for a team comprising mainly young players. There was even speculation the club would be disbanded, as they did not start discussions with players until yesterday, when most of their top players had joined other clubs.
The club's major financier, Steven Lo Kit-sing, who is also the boss of domestic powers South China, refused to comment on Pegasus' future, saying only there would be an important announcement next week.
Lo has been the major force behind the Yuen Long-based club, established in 2008 and aimed at promoting district soccer as well as lifting community morale in Tin Shui Wai district. The businessman, who is facing bribery charges in Macau, is the patron of the club, while his wife, Canny Leung Chi-san, is a director.
Outgoing coach Chan Hiu-ming said he regretted the move as the team had become a force to be reckoned with and popular with fans.
'Pegasus reached two cup finals [League Cup and FA Cup] this season and were second in the league. These are good results,' said Chan, who will be replaced by assistant Yeung Ching-kwong. 'Our attendance has also increased 40 per cent this season with many fans attracted by our attacking style of play. Even many of the traditional clubs do not win the support of the fans, but Pegasus do.
'I don't want to guess the reasons behind such a change, but we all know soccer clubs are in the hands of the owners as they are the ones who foot the bill. If they don't want to continue, no one can force them.'
Hong Kong international Godfred Karikari has joined China Super League side Henan after spurning Guangdong-based China First Division club Sunray Cave.
Another Hong Kong international, Lee Hong-lim, will move to South China, along with midfield powerhouse Manoel Santos and centrehalf Ng Wai-chiu. Lee, 28, will rejoin his brother, Lee Wai-lim, at the Caroliners after they last played together in Tai Po four seasons ago.
Fullback Cheung Kin-fung, also a Hong Kong international, will play for Sunray Cave Sun Hei, with fellow national team member Lau Nim-yat moving to Rangers.
Midfielder Chan Man-kong will join newly promoted side Southern District, with winger Lai Yiu-cheong joining Tuen Mun.
Veteran Lee Wai-lun, So Wai-chuen, Li Ka-chun and striker Jaimes McKee have been offered new contracts to stay.
Pegasus have won two titles in four seasons - the Senior Shield in 2009 and the FA Cup in 2010 - a result which also earned them a place in the 2011 AFC Cup where they exited the tournament after the group stage.