Ernie Merrick fires back at his critics in wake of Hong Kong's defeat by Malaysia
Head coach's response to HKFA board member Ken Ng could be a final parting shot as frustrated Scot says 'my fate will be resolved this week'
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The fate of national coach Ernie Merrick is in the balance after a top official of the Hong Kong Football Association publicly criticised him and laid the responsibility for last week's demoralising 3-0 defeat of Hong Kong by Malaysia in an international friendly at his doorstep.
Merrick, a former Australian A-League coach with Melbourne Victory, was criticised by influential HKFA board member Ken Ng Kin in his personal blog, wherein he found fault with the Hong Kong coach, blaming him for using a wrong playing formation. The defeat by Malaysia extended Hong Kong's recent run of defeats under Merrick to three games.
The public critique is another blow for the government's floundering Project Phoenix, which has already seen the original chief executive officer being replaced. Merrick suggested yesterday Hong Kong might soon be looking for yet another national coach, saying "my fate will be resolved one way or another this week".
Merrick asked if Ng - who has played a main role in the appointments of important personnel including two CEOs, Merrick, a technical director and assistant coaches - was accountable.
"As the HKFA head coach, I accept responsibility for the success or failure of the senior team. I would like to ask Mr Ken Ng what he considers he should be accountable for?" asked Merrick in an e-mail sent to the South China Morning Post.
"When he [Ng] criticises the performance of the HKFA staff, plans, structures, programmes and team results, does he accept any responsibility himself?"
Ng, who is also boss of Hong Kong First Division champions Kitchee, said his blog had dwelt on the playing formation Merrick used and why a three-strong midfield comprising Kitchee players had failed to function.
"I was not critical of him, but I was talking about the technical aspects of the game," Ng said.
This isn't the first time that Ng has been outspoken on the methods employed by Merrick, who said: "He gives his opinions often, sometimes discussing confidential board information, and does not hold back on his views of the way forward for football in Hong Kong. I assume he feels free to say whatever he wants without the concern of any informed and factual response."
Merrick, who accepted the Hong Kong challenge in January, said at the post-match press conference that the build-up to the Malaysia game been "pretty unpleasant", hinting at outside interference. In his e-mail, Merrick said the rot in the domestic set-up was deep, with internal politics a huge impediment.
"I need to explain the complexity of the working environment that I have to operate [in] within the HKFA," Merrick said. "I am answerable to the CEO and HKFA Board. Approximately three months ago I put forward to the Board a systematic plan to develop the standard of football of the senior Hong Kong representative team. The plan was fully endorsed by the Board.
"I also have to deal with the Division One Clubs' Management Committee. Recently I fronted this committee and discovered that some were very critical and disagreed with the development plan, structure and implementation. The majority of the clubs were supportive.
"There is the Technical and Playing Committee who provide their input and opinions. The Technical Director, Steve O'Connor, and I discovered at the first meeting with this committee that they had substantially changed the structure of the technical department. This was just announced and at no point ever discussed with Steve or [me]"
Merrick said his authority has also been undermined and would be reduced further with the appointment of a national team manager soon.
"I have been informed that four more sub-committees will operate under the Technical and Playing Committee ... [they] will advise on technical, playing, coaching, refereeing and management matters.
"Mr Ng has been heavily involved in the appointment of important personnel ... As a member of the Board, the Division One Management Committee, the Playing and Technical Committee and several sub-committees Mr Ng is a key decision-maker and has major input into the structure, approval processes and operations of the HKFA - does he accept any responsibility himself? "I am Hong Kong's 10th national coach since 2000. I have been in this role for nine months. How long has Mr Ken Ng been involved with the HKFA?"