Chan Yuen-ting: Hong Kong soccer’s biggest success story of the year, and possibly its least likely
What a difference a year made. From nowhere to top of the world – Chan made 2016 the ‘Beef Ball’ Year in Hong Kong soccer
Twelve months ago when former head coach Yeung Ching-kwong quit Eastern midway through the season to take up an offer with China League One club Meizhou Hakka, nobody would have expected assistant coach Chan Yuen-ting, a woman, to take over the reins.
A year later, few would have expected Chan who had no prior experience as the head coach of a professional side, would lead Eastern to two major pieces of silverware – the Hong Kong Premier League championship and the Senior Shield – bringing her a series of personal honours as she became the first female to coach a top-tier professional club to the league title.
“We have never expected what has happened to Chan when we decided to appoint her as our head coach midway through last season,” said Eastern executive director Peter Leung Shou-chi. “Back last year when our former head coach Yeung Ching-kwong suddenly stepped down after receiving a good offer from the mainland, we had to find a replacement as soon as possible.
“And after considering a new coach from outside might take time as it was in the middle of the season and we could hardly spare the time it would take for a newcomer to get used to the players and the players to get used to them, we offered the opportunity to Chan who had been the assistant coach since the beginning of the season and understood well the needs of the management and the players.”
But even when Eastern won the championship in May, Leung said it was not a big thing outside Hong Kong as not may people noter the goings on in the Premier League of a small city on a global perspective.
But then the Guinness World Records officially recognised Chan as the first female coach worldwide to lead a top-tier club to a championship, and it began a snowball effect with a lot of international media attention centering on Chan.
“There is no doubt the coverage instantly made Chan one of the world’s most famous coaches, bringing her a series of personal honours that any coach could only dream of,” said Leung. “But she knows clearly without the help of the management and the players, she could never have achieved what she has. This is the result of a concerted effort by all involved at the club and we are happy Chan always recognises this.”
Former Hong Kong national coach Kwok Ka-ming, who was Chan’s course instructor when she obtained the AFC ‘C’ coaching certificate in 2010, was deeply impressed by the way she learned new things.
“She has a strong academic background which has given her a lot of advantages in acquiring coaching knowledge and applying it to her job,” said Kwok, who was also the former HFKA coaching director. “In a short space of time, she has completed all the AFC coaching course certificates from the basic ‘D’ to ‘A’ at the top level and will obtain the professional certificate soon.
“At club level, she has won major titles in her first season which means she can manage a team well. She has so far enjoyed great success in soccer which has brought her a lot of personal honours.
“But a good coach must also know how to handle a crisis, which we have yet to see from her. In fact, we always say a coach cannot be called a good coach if he or she has not been sacked!
“She has to be prepared when these adverse days come and learn how to handle it. But Chan is only 28. There is a long career ahead of her and she will definitely get the opportunities to learn more in her coaching career.
A Chinese University graduate in 2010 with a degree in geography, Chan, who was a member of the Hong Kong women’s team, took up a soccer job after graduation despite opposition from her family. She joined Pegasus as a data analyst before moving to Southern in 2012 as the administration manager. She returned to Pegasus a year later as the assistant coach where she spent two seasons before moving to Eastern.
During these periods, she also obtained a masters degree in sports science and health management.
HKFA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe said the success of Chan has been phenomenal, equaled only by the worldwide attention that has been generated.
“Whilst undoubtedly being in the right place at the right time initially, Chan certainly grasped the opportunity with both hands and overcame many challenges that would have been daunting to most people.
“The success of Eastern in winning the League under her leadership is a testament to her skills, knowledge and dedication.
“What is equally impressive is that she has retained her humility throughout the blaze of publicity. She is a credit to Hong Kong, Hong Kong soccer but most importantly herself.”
The executive said Chan had become a fine role model for the sport, inspiring more young people to follow in her footsteps.
“I believe she is a role model generally for young people to follow their dreams but more specifically for soccer too. I am sure she will inspire people to become involved in the sport in many capacities including as players and coaches, irrespective of gender,” said Sutcliffe.