The Rational Ref
PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 August, 2013, 3:01am

Level the playing field in Hong Kong for foreigners who want to qualify as soccer coaches

Since city has two official languages, why the HKFA provides courses and programmes only in Chinese is puzzling


William Lai is a qualified soccer referee, instructor and assessor, and has also officiated in England and Australia. As an educator, scientist and social scientist, he is also interested in human behaviour which is why his column offers an alternative and rational commentary of what happens on and off the pitch.

It seems Brazilian Cristiano Cordeiro finds the lure of Hong Kong irresistible. Having spent 14 years as a professional player in Hong Kong's top flight between 1998 and 2012, the two-time Hong Kong Footballer of the Year retired last year and returned to his native Brazil. But after only one year away, he is back as an assistant coach at Eastern Salon.

Or is it really because Cordeiro, like many professional players who have hung up their boots, finds the lure of soccer irresistible? Although there are no official statistics, it is well known that nearly all successful coaches were former players. Some of the biggest exceptions are Jose Mourinho, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Arsene Wenger, Gerard Houllier, Carlos Alberto Parreira, and Arrigo Sacchi, who famously said: "A jockey doesn't have to have been born a horse."

While there is no requirement for coaches to have played professionally at the highest level, for many ex-pros becoming a qualified coach is a default career pathway.

But in Hong Kong this pathway can become unnecessarily complicated, roundabout and bothersome. Cordeiro is no exception and there are others just like him.

Last year the popular Brazilian said he was returning to his home country to reunite with his family who had left Hong Kong the previous year. Cordeiro planned to join First Division side Internacional, where he started out as a youth player, as their youth coach. He also said he needed to take some coaching courses.

To work as a youth coach, a minimum requirement is a "C" licence or certificate, which is usually awarded by the country's governing body for soccer. This indicates that Cordeiro obtained his "C" licence from the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) and not from Hong Kong.

The HKFA also provides "D" and "C" licence coaching courses and conducts these in Chinese. Therefore, youth coaches qualified in Hong Kong are usually literate in Chinese.

And since those with the minimum requirements are likely to progress higher to "B", "A" and "Pro" licences, the opportunities for non-Chinese speakers to become qualified coaches in Hong Kong are pretty slim or non-existent.

However, Hong Kong has two official languages, so the reason why the HKFA provides their courses and programmes only in Chinese is puzzling in our progressive society.

Of course, there are ways around this, as Cordeiro and others have shown by moving to another country and obtaining similar qualifications that are taught in a language that one understands. And on their return hope the HKFA will recognise the pieces of paper.

It appears likely the head coaches of Biu Chun Rangers and Happy Valley, Brazilian Rambo Ricardo and Argentine Sergio Timoner respectively, obtained their "Pro" licences outside of Hong Kong in a non-Chinese medium.

Overseas players and coaches make up a sizeable portion of Hong Kong's soccer community. They are clearly valuable because they bring in variety, different perspectives and improved standards to the local game.

In return the soccer community should support foreigners, particularly those who wish to remain after their playing careers. Spaniard Roberto Losada is another example of former overseas players taking their preliminary steps into professional coaching in Hong Kong. Losada and Cordeiro are both assistant coaches with First Division teams.

Many ex-players would love to move into coaching, but therein lies the rub. The HKFA's official coaching courses are conducted in Chinese, with no provisions for English translations. Contrast this to the recent HKFA coaching seminar presented by Hong Kong head coach Kim Pan-gon to all registered coaches with a "C" licence or above. It was conducted in English, and Chinese translation was provided.

Just as Hong Kong soccer has opened up to and exploited the benefits of foreign talent, the HKFA has an obligation to open up all its courses and programmes to the wider soccer community. HKFA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe has stressed his support for this, but needs time and the means to address this long-standing inequality within the HKFA.

Rational Ref has spoken with coaches and former players, including those in Hong Kong's amateur leagues who are fortunate enough to continue with their passion to coach despite not having the opportunity to participate in coaching courses, and the sentiment is universal. It is high time the HKFA provided courses for non-Chinese speakers, but at the same time they are not holding their breath.

  • A final note: All that fuss about Hong Kong's "killer" pitch ruining Tottenham Hotspur defender Jan Vertonghen's start to the season was complete exaggeration. Vertonghen apparently suffered a serious ankle injury after he slipped on the muddy and poorly managed pitch within minutes of coming on as a substitute during the Barclays Asia Trophy last month. Despite the extensive hullabaloo over the injury, the Belgian international started Spurs' first two EPL matches without seeming the worse for wear.


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