Why inaugural Hong Kong Premier League seems like more of the same
With the inaugural Premier League over, it's like nothing's different - but let's wait before judging
It was the year when professionalism came to Hong Kong soccer, when more money than ever was invested, and when everything would be better. So how did the inaugural 2014-15 Hong Kong Premier League play out?
As with any stakeholder of a business organisation, progress is seen through publicly available results and measured by revenue or other key performance indicators.
By looking at the facts and figures - available from the HKFA website - we know there were nine teams in the BOCG Life Hong Kong Premier League that played 72 league matches with an average attendance of 1,047. Television coverage was also available on ATV's free-to-air channels, albeit mostly broadcast in the early hours of the morning.
Compared with the previous season, 12 teams competed in the RedMR Hong Kong First Division. However, due to match-fixing allegations midway through that season, Happy Valley and Tuen Mun were suspended, so officially 10 teams played 90 matches. The average crowd attendance was 933. Matches were also broadcast live, and repeated, by subscription-based company NOW TV.
In terms of attendance figures, there was a 12 per cent increase, but the HKFA and clubs can do more to encourage fans, youth players, family members, community groups and the underprivileged to attend matches.
The Premier League produced 240 goals, averaging 3.3 per match. There was an average of 27 shots per match, with 10.3 being on target (shooting accuracy of 38 per cent). The old First Division produced 311 goals over 90 matches, an average of 3.5 goals.
There were 26 shots, with 9.8 on target (shooting accuracy of 37 per cent). These statistics do not reveal any real improvement in performance and goals.
In terms of discipline, the Premier League saw on average 32 fouls, 4.6 yellow cards and 0.2 red cards per match. Similarly, the old First Division produced 31 fouls, 4.7 yellows and 0.2 reds per match.
These indistinguishable results are hardly surprising since, in reality, the players and teams in Hong Kong this season are essentially the same ones who played the previous season. So, despite the name change and rebranding, the Premier League is not suddenly better, faster and stronger than before.
Ultimately, it takes time for real development. As the HKFA is spending money wisely - the Home Affairs Bureau has granted HK$25 million annually for five years - we can only wait to see the fruits of their labour.
Many critics point to the performance and Fifa ranking of Hong Kong's national team as important measures of the game's progress.
This remains to be seen because even in England, where the FA take youth development very seriously, the England national team's performances fluctuate and do not accurately tally with the amount of time, effort and money going into youth development.
In August 2012, England achieved its highest-ever Fifa ranking of third in the world. Two years later, England dropped to 20th and they are now 14th.
Perhaps a better measure of the quality of local soccer is to gauge the performance of Hong Kong's top-flight teams competing in Asia.
Even though local powerhouses Kitchee and South China spend over HK$20 million per season and generally trounce other local top-flight teams, they still find it difficult to qualify for the AFC Champions League and have to settle for the region's second-tier AFC Cup.
Therefore, the real standard of local soccer is the relative difference between the top two clubs and the rest of the Premier League teams, and how well they perform in Asia.
Australia's A-League and Japan's J-League are good examples where representative teams perform consistently well in the AFC Champions League, while also finding that their domestic leagues are still competitive.
For now, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr's famous quote summarises our soccer "renaissance": the more things change, the more they stay the same.
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