Ernie Merrick has the task of leading Hong Kong soccer to the 'promised land' after being appointed head coach yesterday.
The Scottish-Australian, who left A-League champions Melbourne Victory in March after a series of poor results, is on a three-year deal from next month worth more than HK$2 million a year.
Hong Kong are 168th in the Fifa world rankings - a historic low - and one of Merrick's priorities is to improve the situation, according to Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak.
'The new head coach appointment is a major component of the Phoenix Project to revive Hong Kong soccer,' Leung said. 'Merrick will be given the full responsibility of leading the Hong Kong team and at the same time shaping the development of the junior squads at different age groups.
'It's not going to be easy as we all know. But he is an experienced coach with an adequate knowledge of sports science. He has also been working for a long time in the Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS), developing their junior programmes. We are confident he will bring us a new dimension with his extensive background in the sport.'
Born in Edinburgh, Merrick, now 58, immigrated to Australia in 1975, completing a bachelor of education degree and a diploma in sports science.
He played and coached in Australia's lower leagues before establishing a high-performance soccer programme in 1992 at the VIS, which later became a major route for Australian elite junior and youth players.
He joined Melbourne Victory in the Australian A-League as the head coach in 2005, winning two championships and was named coach of the year twice before leaving the club early this year.
HKFA chief executive Gordon McKie said he was delighted to confirm the key appointment following two unsuccessful applications from England Under-20 coach Brian Eastick and Darren Robinson, recently performance coach of Nottingham Forest.
'Merrick brings significant experience of high-performance, professional football in Australia, having been involved in coaching for more than 30 years,' McKie said. 'He has a style we need here.'
Merrick, who will arrive in Hong Kong next month, said: 'It's clear the HKFA is determined to raise the bar for soccer in Hong Kong and I greatly appreciate the opportunity to play my part in this challenge ... Most importantly, I want to offer assistance, leadership and support to the many talented players in Hong Kong.'