Hong Kong's two heavyweight clubs are competing against each other even before the start of the season, with champions South China and Kitchee both choosing yesterday to announce their squads for the new campaign.
The Caroliners went first, introducing their 23 players and new coach Cheung Po-chun at their training ground in So Kon Po. An hour later, at a hotel in Central, Kitchee disclosed their game plan to wrest the title back from the Caroliners.
"Kitchee will, of course, remain our main threat next season," said Cheung, who joined the champions from relegated Tai Po. "Newcomers Eastern will be another team to watch."
Cheung admitted he was feeling the pressure of coaching South China, especially as his previous side were relegated. "I believe I can bring something new to the team, who have been rejuvenated with the arrival of young and new faces," he said. "Although some people have said I am not up to the job, I believe the results on the field can prove them wrong."
Club convenor Steven Lo Kit-sing expressed his confidence in the new coach. "It is unfair to call Cheung a loser because of Tai Po's relegation," he said. "He is a man of vision; that's why I offered him the job. I am sure he has the quality to lead the team forward."
Of the 23-strong squad, midfielder Aender Mesquita has joined from Tai Po, while two other midfielders, Lo Kong-wai and Chan Siu-kwan, defender Garlock Liu and goalkeeper Tsang Man-fai were all signed from Yokohama FC (HK). Striker Mamadou Barry and another goalkeeper, Zhang Chunhui, are from Sunray Cave Sun Hei, while Brazilian midfielder Joao Pereira is making a return after missing last season due to a knee injury. Centre half Jova Palovic, an Australian, was previously with Mitra Kukar of the Indonesian Super League.
Kitchee, meanwhile, have five new players, including forwards Christian Annan, Alexander Akande and To Hon-to from Tai Po and flanker Xu Deshuai from Pegasus. They are also expecting to seal a deal with a Spanish striker, who will arrive before their friendly against Premier League champions Manchester United on July 29.
"All our newcomers are forwards," Kitchee boss Ken Ng Kin said. "They will provide additional fire power and lend support to our prolific striker Jorge Tarres. We're not just looking at the domestic tournaments; we've also qualified for the quarter-finals of the [regional] AFC Cup and we're keen to do well in the competition, also."