Top coach must be the goal of Hong Kong soccer chiefs
- The departure of Gary White after he received a better offer in Japan has come as a blow to the city game, and those in charge must now select a worthy successor
Three months ago, the Hong Kong soccer team welcomed the appointment of a new head coach. Gary White came to the city with a proven track record, having previously managed Taiwan and spent more than six years in Asia. His appointment ended a nine-month wait for a new head coach and offered the Hong Kong team a fresh start. White’s departure before even finishing his probationary period is, therefore, disappointing.
White has been snapped up by Tokyo Verdy, a team in Japan’s second tier. His decision to seize the opportunity is understandable. He accepted a better offer, no doubt made more attractive because his family lives in Japan. But the decision is a blow for Hong Kong soccer because he had a positive impact during his short spell in the city. He came with clear ideas that were well-received by the team. Under his leadership, Hong Kong secured qualification for next year’s East Asian Football Federation Championship finals in South Korea. It had been hoped that White would build on that achievement. Now, the Football Association has to go back to the drawing board.
There will always be risks associated with bringing in an ambitious manager from overseas. White was being linked with Japanese teams at the time of his appointment, and his performance as Hong Kong head coach no doubt helped him seal the move. But that should not deter the association from striving for the best head coach it can find. The appointment process, criticised in some quarters last time, must be thorough and ensure the best possible candidate is secured. This will take some time, but the coach needs to be in place ahead of the World Cup qualifiers in September.
This is a critical time for Hong Kong soccer. A new CEO is also being sought, after the departure of Mark Sutcliffe in the summer. The government has injected millions of dollars into the sport and progress is being made, but many challenges remain. The recent opening of a dedicated training centre for the team was much needed. Hong Kong people have an appetite for success, witnessed when the team won the East Asian Games in 2009. Finding the right head coach is a vital step in taking Hong Kong soccer forward.