Yapp Hung-fai is captain of his own destiny as he stays patient signing with top overseas club
Hong Kong goalkeeper is waiting for the chance to play outside the city after being rejected by the mainland because he was deemed a 'foreigner'
Hong Kong captain Yapp Hung-fai, who frustrated China with a series of acrobatic saves in the World Cup qualifiers, still dreams of playing overseas despite being denied by mainland authorities.
Two years ago, Yapp was offered a five-year contract with China Super League side Guizhou Renhe but the Chinese Football Association intervened saying its rules do not allow clubs to recruit overseas goalkeepers as they want to develop home-grown talent.
Hong Kong and China are considered two separate entities in sports and, despite being a Chinese national, Yapp is not eligible to play in the China League because he is from Hong Kong. Other positions, however, are not affected by the rules as Hong Kong players can register as a home player for domestic competitions in China.
"I was not too happy at that time because that was a good opportunity for me to further my career in a stronger and better league," said Yapp, who posted a photo saying "I am Chinese and not a foreign player" when he was rejected. "But since the rules are there, I couldn't do much but accept it."
The 25-year-old's disputes with China do not stop there. During the first goalless draw in Shenzhen in September Yapp accused captain Zheng Zhi of calling him a "dog" as Yapp lay injured on the pitch near the end of the match.
On Tuesday at Mong Kok Stadium, Hong Kong fans took delight in calling Zheng "dog" whenever the mainlander had the ball.
"I leave all these things behind me when I lead my side on to the pitch," said Yapp.
"Sometimes people think too much and make it too personal, but we are professionals and know clearly our roles in the game." Despite being denied the opportunity of playing in mainland China, Yapp still aspires to play in a stronger league. "I am in no hurry," he said. "I enjoy playing in Hong Kong with my club Eastern, but if the opportunity comes, I would have no hesitation in giving it a trial.
"The skills of most Hong Kong players can match many of our Asian counterparts, but we find it difficult matching the pace of playing in regional competitions at club or international level," said Yapp.
"This is mainly because the standard of the Hong Kong league, which we play week in and week out, is not up to the region's highest standards.
"If we want to improve, we have to play in a better level of competition."
Yapp certainly helped his profile by keeping China goalless over the two games, virtually killing their chances of reaching the next round in World Cup qualification. "I made some good saves in both matches, but it doesn't mean I have any hard feelings against them," said Yapp, who resumed normal club training after a tense two weeks during which Hong Kong also defeated Maldives 1-0 in Male.
"There were some unhappy disputes before, but I have never carried them to the pitch as I always do my best in every game, whether they are domestic competitions or at international level.
"The two matches against China have attracted a lot of attention for different reasons, but for me they remain the same. It's a soccer game and my responsibility is not to allow the opposition to score. I did that."
With the final World Cup qualifying match against Qatar in March, Yapp said his imminent target would be helping his club, Eastern, lift the all-important league championship.
"This is very important to an ambitious club such as Eastern. The owner spends huge amounts of money and his sights are set not only in Hong Kong, but the Asia region. I want to contribute, so Eastern can be known around Asia," he said.