Local talent ignored, says English coaching official

ALEADING English football coach believes home-grown players get a rough deal in Hongkong.

Les Reed, a regional director in the English Football Association's programme for excellence, studied several local league games during his recent two-week stay in the territory to conduct an international preliminary coaching course.

And, as on his previous visit in March 1991, he found that the skills and the potential of the local Chinese players were often not fully appreciated.

Said Reed: ''All the way through the sport in Hongkong, from the spectators to the coaches to the bosses of the clubs, the local people do not have enough faith in their home-grown products.

''From watching games it appears that their job is to be a support team for the foreign players.

''If they were given more encouragement and self-belief, some of them could turn out to be very good players because generally their technique is very good.'' Reed was particularly impressed with the standard of Chinese players during last Sunday's Eastern v South China clash at Mongkok Stadium.

''Some of them had excellent ability and they need steering in the right direction.'' This comes through coaching - an area in which Hongkong's professional clubs are sadly lacking, according to Reed.

''There is a terrific base to develop from here with the scholarship scheme at the Institute but at club level it all dies off, so it will never realise itself in international football.

''There have been one or two outstanding students on the course and I would not hesitate to recommend them for a place on a diploma coaching course we are thinking of running in May.

''But what worries me is that we will run these courses over the years but there will be nowhere for them to realise that potential because the majority of them will go into the club scene - and people have to fall in line with the clubs.'' Reed singled out former Happy Valley goalkeeper Lau Tung-ping, now a coaching assistant at Kitchee, as the star of the 16-strong class.

''Lau Tung-ping has the potential to do very well because he is still very athletic and young enough to get cracking. He is outstanding for this sort of level.'' On the playing front in Hongkong, Reed commented: ''I have seen both ends of the spectrum and there is a big drop from the top clubs to the bottom ones.

''I do not see the point in the bottom clubs bringing in has-been foreigners just for face. It would be better to bring in young Chinese players and then add one or two foreign players in the right places.

''Overall, though, I would not hesitate to recommend an English professional to come out here. There are a lot of pitfalls because of the way of life: you need youngish pros who are still hungry and, through their attitudes, might change the outlook of the clubs.'' As well as being the English FA's regional director for the South and East, Reed is also involved with the FA's School for Excellence at Lilleshall in the Midlands.

The school, now its ninth academic year, takes in 16 new students every year for a two-year residential course, from the ages of 14 to 16. Reed helps to identify the best young players in his region and also works closely with leading clubs such as Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea.

Although the school for excellence has come in for sharp criticism over the years, Reed said it had at least pulled the students out of the ''dog eat dog'' environment. And players to have made their mark at the highest level included Tottenham's Nick Barmby, Ian Walker and Andy Turner, Arsenal's Mark Flatts, Everton's John Ebbrell, Graham Stuart at Chelsea and Mark Robins, now at Norwich City.

''It was never designed to produce a team of international stars because the age range of players in the national squad is vast.

''It was a real rush job with the first intake of 32 players to fill the two years but now selection is much better and the success rate is higher.'' The standard of English coaching came in for strong criticism recently from Arsene Wenger, the coach of French League leaders Monaco. ''That is where training is the most backward, the least evolved,'' he said.

Reed believes the root of the problem lies in the number of games youngsters are forced to play.

''There are too many competitive matches for kids and too much conflict in the way they are developed. Some kids have gone at 13, physically and mentally burnt out. They will never reach their full potential and if that means you lose your Paul Gascoigne or your David Platt from that age group it will take five years for another to come along.

''Apart from the injury side, you have a psychological effect of five different team managers - at school, club, district, county and centre of excellence - giving different information.

''The solution is long-term and there are moves to change the legislation to protect these boys. The biggest problem at the moment is the scramble for the best kids.''