Hong Kong FA mum after departure of national team coach Ernie Merrick

Board members unable to shed any further light on reasons why national team coach left his position after only nine months in the job

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 October, 2012, 3:04am

Hong Kong Football Association board member Ken Ng yesterday played down the sudden departure of national team coach Ernie Merrick.

"This happens everywhere in the world for various reasons," said Ng. "The chief executive is now handling the set-up of the Hong Kong team and he should be able to find the best solution."

Other HKFA board members refused to shed any more light on why Merrick had left his post after just nine months in the job. They all said it was up to recently appointed CEO Mark Sutcliffe to handle the fallout.

On Friday, Sutcliffe hinted at a major breakdown in the relationship between Merrick and the association. "It was clear to both parties that the relationship wasn't working," he said.

Merrick's departure is the latest blow to the HKFA's battered image. In May, Scot Gordon McKie resigned as the first chief executive of the association after just six months.

The internal strife threatens to derail the government-funded Project Phoenix, a comprehensive, multimillion-dollar plan to revive the game in Hong Kong.

"This is not an ideal situation [but] I will leave it to others to speculate what it does to our reputation," said Sutcliffe.

Meanwhile, First Division champions Kitchee slipped in the battle to defend their title when they were held to a 1-1 draw by Tuen Mun at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground yesterday. The champions were looking for a morale boost ahead of the first leg of their Interport Club Cup clash against Shanghai on Thursday but had to settle for a point that maintains a slender two-point lead in the standings over rivals South China.

Yip Tsz-chun became the toast of the New Territories side when he volleyed home a Kwok Wing-sun cross with 12 minutes to go, to cancel out Spaniard Jorge Tarres' effort that put Kitchee ahead in the first half.

"A number of players are still struggling to find their best form and they have to show improvement soon," said Ng, who is boss at Kitchee. "This is similar to what happened last season, when the boys were also struggling in the first half of the season but then overcome the slow start and made a strong comeback in the second half of the season.

"I am still confident we can meet the challenges ahead."

Kitchee full-back Lo Kwan-yee admitted his side had run out of steam while chasing a second goal, but added: "There is still a long way to go in the league."

Kitchee lead the standings on 16 points, though South China have a game in hand.