Why Kitchee chief Ken Ng Kin could end up eating his words after taunting Eastern over their Champions League struggles
Kitchee boss Ken Ng Kin claims his side will go better than domestic rivals Eastern in next season’s Champions League, but is he underestimating the quality in the regional competition?
Sorry, Ken, but if you believe Kitchee would have done any better than Eastern in this year’s AFC Champions League, you would have been sorely disappointed.
Domestic champions Eastern rightly became Hong Kong’s first-ever AFC Champions League participants this season, a moment that should have been celebrated as a huge achievement.
Instead, the start of the campaign was spoiled by reports of squabbling over whether or not Kitchee should have been allowed to take up Eastern’s place in the competition after the then-Hong Kong Premier League champions initially decided they couldn’t afford it.
The end now has been spoiled by harsh criticism of Eastern, who picked up just one point from their six games, conceding 24 and scoring just one, and claims from Kitchee boss Ken Ng Kin that his side will do better in 2018 having won this season’s Premier League title.
— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) May 9, 2017
Pull the other one. Let’s see in 12 months, but the group table does not and will not lie and Kitchee will also find the step up to the AFC Champions League a significant leap, because it is.
This is not to slam the quality of football in Hong Kong; it is just the reality of competing against teams with the clout of the likes of those in China, Japan and South Korea.
This will not be made any easier in 2019, when Hong Kong will probably lose the place in the group stage of the AFC Champions League, and have to revert to the play-offs and then more than likely back to the grind of the second-tier AFC Cup.
The reason Hong Kong got this chance is because of their performances in the AFC Cup. But with Eastern not helping that points tally this season and Kitchee unlikely to next year, regardless of what Mr Ng claims, an entity like Malaysia is likely to be handed the chance to dine at Asia’s top table.
This is a problem, and if this merry-go-round continues, no one will benefit. Hong Kong replaced teams from Vietnam in gaining direct entry into the group stage, and this was a shame as teams from Vietnam had been making slow and steady progress over the years.
Champions Binh Duong got a taste of the AFC Champions League in 2008, and picked up one point from their six games. Does anyone spot a theme developing?
After two years in the AFC Cup in 2009 – when they reached the semi-finals – and 2010, they were handed another shot at the AFC Champions League in 2015.
They lost four, drew one and won one. Who would have thought it? Okay, the win was the last game of the group stage and Japan’s Kashiwa Reysol laid down and had their bellies tickled with a place in the knockout stage already assured. But Binh Duong deserved it after being competitive for the majority of the six games, and even drawing 1-1 at home with South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
A year later, and they repeated the performance of the previous year and amassed four points from six games, this time claiming the scalp of Jeonbuk at home on matchday four with the group still alive.
But Vietnam were denied the chance to build on that progress in 2017 as Hong Kong and the Chan Yuen-ting story took over.
No one expects a 20-year plan like the one laid out by Japan, but let us look further than one or two years to implement change and progress beyond criticising.
Mr Ng was always going to claim Kitchee will do better than Eastern in the AFC Champions League next season, and as the owner of the club, he kind of had to after the churlish exchanges and name calling seen at the start of the year.
But in reality, history suggests a point from six games on your AFC Champions League debut is on par.
It’s a low bar, but Mr Ng had better hope for a slightly more favourable draw than the one dished out to Eastern this year otherwise he might be made to eat his words.