Outgoing Kitchee head coach Josep Gombau has mixed feelings as he takes charge of his last match in Hong Kong against Tuen Mun in the season play-off final at Mong Kok Stadium today.
A victory would see him leave the club he joined four years ago on a high as it would see Kitchee playing in the 2014 AFC Cup, along with champions South China. Defeat would see the 36-year-old depart on a slightly bitter note before taking up his post as head coach at Australian League side Adelaide United in July.
"It's difficult for me to explain what my feelings are at the moment," said the Spaniard. "I am happy because Kitchee are having a good season and I will start a new project in my life. But it is always sad to leave, particularly a club I love so much. I also have to leave a place where I have made a lot of friends.
"I will miss a lot of other things. The club is certainly what I will miss most, especially people I have worked with to build Kitchee. The management, the staff members and the coaching assistants in the first team - I'll miss you all."
Gombau, formerly technical director of FCB Escola in Dubai, a youth football academy affiliated with La Liga side Barcelona, has been one of the most successful foreign coaches in recent years. He led Kitchee to two championships (2011 and 2012), two FA Cups (2012 and 2013) and one League Cup (2012) in four seasons. At regional level, Kitchee reached this year's AFC Cup quarter-finals after a surprising 2-0 win over Kelantan of Malaysia two weeks ago.
He paid special tribute to the players. "Thanks for your hard work every day, your attitude in every training session and every single match," he said. "Thanks for your belief in me, as a person, as a coach, and your belief in this Barca style. Together we have built something nice, something that allows me to improve in my professional life and makes me a better coach."
Midfielder Huang Yang, who won the Footballer of the Year award last week, was particularly supportive of his coach. "I did not have too many opportunities when I first joined Kitchee two years ago, but he kept his belief in me until I became ready for the first team.
"Gombau is a very easy person to communicate with and his hard work and effort in leading us to the AFC Cup last eight is important as it means Kitchee has a strong squad to challenge for domestic and international honours. If we can win tomorrow, it will be another big accomplishment under his reign."
Tuen Mun, who have had an exceptional season, finishing third in the table, will be missing reliable centre half Mauricio da Luz due to injury.
Coach Yan Lik-kin desperately needs a victory for the club to be more commercially attractive to sponsors.