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HKFA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe has his work cut out for him
New HKFA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe will need to get cracking to avoid getting bogged down in local football politics
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The high-profile resignations of two independent directors at the Hong Kong Football Association is the latest episode in our own sitcom that we will call Own Goal. When you have two public figures such as former police commissioner Tang King-shing and former director of immigration Simon Peh Yun-lu walking out on the board of directors it raises a lot of questions, mainly 'why?'
The latter had a ready-made excuse as he accepted a position in the new government as head of the Independent Commission Against Corruption. Policeman Tang didn't have as convenient a justification for withdrawing from the nine-member HKFA board of directors. But taken together, both departures are fodder for conspiracy theorists.
Rumour has it that both Tang and Peh wanted to distance themselves from the HKFA, especially former director Steven Lo Kit-sing who is embroiled in a land dispute in Macau where he will face graft charges this month. This is just conjecture, but what is fact is that Lo - who along with another Hong Kong property tycoon, Joseph Lau Luen-hung, has been ordered to stand trial over accusations they paid a HK$20 million bribe to secure prime land on which the luxury La Scala flats have been built - had offered to stand down from the board.
But in Hong Kong, where British rule of law exists, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. And as such the HKFA board declined Lo's offer leaving the South China boss still in place as a director. So, Tang's departure, less than one year into his four-year term, had nothing to do with luxury flats and Lo, but rather with the "way things are being handled by the board". So says an HKFA insider who said Tang had clashed with some clubs unhappy over the way he had handled refereeing and disciplinary matters.
Sound familiar? In an earlier episode of Own Goal we had a chief executive packing his bags and leaving town with a million-dollar pay-off less than eight months into his job.
The HKFA has a knack of lurching from one crisis to another. Chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak has tried to downplay the departure of the two former civil servants. But there is no denying the fact two high-profile resignations would have hurt. Much fanfare was made by the HKFA when these independent directors were announced last year. It was thought they would work as a useful counterweight to the big clubs, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
This is the stage into which new chief executive Mark Sutcliffe has entered. The man behind Project Phoenix was expected to take over the helm tomorrow but he turned up a few days early to ease himself into the hot seat.
As eager as Mike Tyson is to "sing and dance in a musical" - as the former world heavyweight champion told a bemused audience of investors in Hong Kong a few days ago - Sutcliffe will hope to come out fighting from his corner and make his presence felt immediately.
He inherits a lot of problems and our advice is to bin all that and do his thing. The best way to achieve that is to show something tangible. To the man in the street, Project Phoenix is as mythical as the name of the bird it carries. Its 33 recommendations to revitalise and revolutionise the game might have plenty of merit but all this will take time. And this is something Hong Kong people do not have.
To kickstart the dream, we need results now. And the best way people can relate to that is for the national team to start making waves. In December, Hong Kong will host the qualifying campaign for the 2013 East Asian Football Federation Cup where they take on strong opponents Australia, North Korea and Taiwan. Only one place is up for grabs for the finals. Japan, South Korea and China have qualified automatically.
Yet the build-up hasn't been smooth which once again highlights the clubs having issues with national coach Ernie Merrick over his squad selection. Merrick named two or three players who are still not eligible to represent Hong Kong as they don't have passports. Two come from South China - defenders Sean Tse Ka-keung, who arrived from the Manchester City Academy this summer, and Jack Sealy. The club doesn't want them to train with the national squad because they are not eligible.
Merrick must only pick players who are eligible and his aim must be to see Hong Kong rise up the Fifa rankings. If Hong Kong can show improved performance on the field, then the politics and in-fighting will be forgotten.