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South China FC

Hong Kong football physically, athletically, technically deficient – there needs to be more professionalism, says Class of ’92 legend Nicky Butt

Former Manchester United star believes the Football Association needs to get children focused solely on the game from a younger age

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 July, 2017, 10:25am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 July, 2017, 10:49pm

There are perhaps few people in the world as qualified to talk about the state of football in Hong Kong as former Manchester United legend Nicky Butt.

“I came across here four or five years ago now, so I was surprised at the talent they have and the good young players. But I think it needs to be more professional,” Butt said at an event in Hong Kong to promote Now TV’s football coverage for next season, as well as the new interactive “Ballr” smartphone app.

Not only did Butt, 42, get a personal taste of the local game during a season with South China in 2010-11, but he is now head of coaching at the United youth academy.

The former England international, who made 270 appearances for United, believes the Hong Kong Football Association’s problems start and end with academy coaching.

“It needs to be more culturally ingrained, in a way, when kids are nine, 10, 11 years old,” Butt said. “They need to get that base, that groundwork, into the culture.

“Get kids to a level at 13, 14 where they’ve got a chance to maybe go on and play in Europe when they’re older.

“Because physically, athletically and technically they’re very, very different footballers.”

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Butt will get to witness firsthand just how big the difference in standard is between Hong Kong’s young players and those of a major European club.

In August, he will bring members of United’s under-16 academy side on a two-week visit to train and swap cultural experiences with their counterparts at the Hong Kong Football Association.

“They lack a little bit of professionalism – in their training mentality and living like a footballer, just having one thing on your mind – football, football, football,” Butt said of his previous experiences of players here.

“All the top players have that in their mind. Every time they train it’s a big day for them. If Hong Kong players can get that in their mentality, there’s no way in the next three to six years we won’t maybe see one or two playing in Europe.

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“I don’t think they’re not focused, I think the whole regime, the whole football association needs to get them more focused at a younger age.

“Get them thinking more professionally at 13, 14, 15, so that they have a mentality when they turn professional at 16, 17, 18.

“When I was here – it was might have changed now – the boys that were playing were very good players but not very good professionals.”

Butt’s former club South China, where the midfielder finished his playing career, recently opted to quit the Hong Kong Premier League and drop into the First Division for next season.

Club management said they made the move in a bid to “focus on youth development”, despite their status as Hong Kong’s most successful club with 41 top-flight championships and the biggest fan base in Hong Kong sports.

The decision has been slammed by disgruntled supporters and Butt hopes they will be back in the Premier League soon.

“I think it’s sad – they’re one of the biggest clubs in Hong Kong, with a big history, a lot of success,” said Butt.

“I think all clubs have ups and downs, have bad spells, but hopefully things sort themselves out at South China, and they can be back in the Premier League soon.”