The Rational Ref

Serie A the wrong style to emulate

Hong Kong players should try copying the robustness seen in the English Premier League rather than the negativity in Italy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 May, 2014, 9:43pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 May, 2014, 9:45pm

What is Hong Kong's preferred style of soccer? Considering the huge popularity and influences from high-profile leagues like the English Premiership and La Liga, it could be assumed players and coaches prefer to emulate the styles of their heroes and favourite teams. However, this is entirely wrong.

Generally speaking, teams in Hong Kong, consisting mainly of local Chinese players, do not play in the entertaining and attractive style seen in England and Spain. Instead, they are more likely to play in a fashion similar to Italy's Serie A, where teams have a penchant for boring and defensive soccer - known as the Catenaccio style - eking out 1-0 wins and exhibiting lots of time wasting, diving and overdramatic acting.

This penchant is a sore point among many British, German and Australian players, managers and fans here. From their perspective, the almost effeminate, delicate and fragile nature that local players like to flaunt is an affront to the sporting ideals of the game. To add further insult, many referees condone and encourage this style of play by rewarding free kicks for these antics.

It appears local players take their cue from Serie A players who act all delicate and fragile in front of referees but, when out of sight of match officials, will cynically kick or elbow their opponents in acts of macho aggression

Soccer is a contact sport, so some physical contact is inevitable. When the contact is neither unfair nor dangerous play should continue, otherwise there will be no flow to the game with referees pulling up every minor contact. Unfortunately in Hong Kong, the slightest knock and subsequent uproar, even for innocent shoulder-to-shoulder charges, reveal a lot about the local mentality.

Local Chinese players also like to play up the stereotype that they are no match against the physically bigger foreign player. Again, this is not necessarily true since there are local players who are more than up to the physical challenge of competing against supposedly stronger and larger non-Chinese opponents. Again, it appears local players take their cues from Serie A players who act all delicate and fragile in front of referees but, when out of sight of match officials, will cynically kick or elbow their opponents in acts of macho aggression.

The recent FA Cup quarter-final matches involving eight typically representative Hong Kong teams from the HKFA First Division reflect this negative approach. In those matches, there were two 1-0 wins and two penalty shoot-outs, 26 cautions and one red card.

Unsporting behaviour such as time-wasting, faking injuries, diving and incessant complaining are the usual antics employed and this style of play has even influenced some foreign players to adapt and play up their fragility just like local Chinese players.

In the Sunray Cave JC Sun Hei and Eastern Salon quarter-final, as soon as Eastern scored their goal from a set piece in the 11th minute it was all about time wasting. This meant over 80 minutes of anti-soccer antics in winding down the clock. For instance, Eastern goalkeeper Paulo Cesar da Silva Argolo pretended to have a leg injury and sought extensive treatment. However, in the team dugout area the reserve keeper did not even bother warming up, so it was obvious everyone knew the "game plan". Following the lengthy delay, Eastern's "delicate" Brazilian keeper miraculously recovered and proceeded to take his goal kicks without any sign of injury.

Meanwhile, Sun Hei's giant centre forward Reinaldo de Morais Peres spent more time on the ground than he did touching the ball. The Brazilian's histrionics in trying to win penalties and free kicks by falling over every time a defender came his way was pretty shameful. Even my 10-year-old nephew, visiting Hong Kong for the first time, was compelled to shout "get up" every time it happened.

In contrast, Eastern's Australian centre forward Dylan Macallister didn't mind physically battling it out against his opponents. What a pity Macallister's local teammates see no honour in this kind of honest, hard graft.

The "anti-soccer" mindset is established at all levels in Hong Kong - from youth, women and amateur all the way up to the top leagues. Rational Ref had to caution a player in a women's league match recently for diving. It was so blatant even her teammates were embarrassed and forgot to argue for a penalty.

One of the best matches I have refereed this season was a Yau Yee League Cup semi-final between two Division One teams composed mostly of overseas players. Both teams understood and accepted the physical nature of the game. The match was played at a cracking pace with good technical ability and honest, committed, hardworking graft.

Most notably, there were no anti-soccer histrionics. So based on the premise that most overseas players here shun the local style of play, tomorrow's amateur YYL Cup final at HKFC promises to be a far better spectacle than the professional FA Cup final in Hong Kong later this month.

Agree or disagree? Contact Rational Ref at rationalref@gmail.com