Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA)

Hong Kong to step up pursuit of teen ace Dai Wai-tsun after midfielder signs three-year contract with England’s Bury

Former captain of city’s Barcelona soccer school agrees new deal with League One side after impressing in preseason

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2017, 11:33am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2017, 11:30pm

The sight of England-based starlet Dai Wai-tsun putting pen to paper on a new three-year contract with League One side Bury will make the Hong Kong Football Association more determined to secure the teenage midfielder’s national team future.

Known as Tsun Dai in England, the Hong Kong-born player who turns 18 next week impressed fans of third-tier side Bury when he made his debut this month in a preseason friendly against Championship outfit Sunderland.

An eye-catching display saw him singled out for praise by Bury manager Lee Clark and Dai signed an extended deal with the Shakers on Tuesday, although the international ambitions of the dual passport holder remain unclear.

“I’ve asked some of our coaches to follow that up because he has a Hong Kong passport, so is eligible to play for Hong Kong,” Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) chief executive Mark Sutcliffe said about Dai, who also started Tuesday’s friendly against Macclesfield Town.

“It would be great if he’s interested. Anybody with that sort of talent, and the exposure he’s had to high-quality football, would be a strong addition to our squad.

“He’s a young man who has got his future in front of him. If he’s interested in playing for Hong Kong, we’d welcome him.”

Dai, a former captain of Barcelona Hong Kong soccer school, moved to England as an 11-year-old and was with Reading’s youth team before moving to Bury and signed his first professional contract in May following a two-year scholarship.

A future star? Hong Kong teenager Dai Wai-tsun looks set to make debut in English professional football after impressing in preseason friendly

“He’s been through the development system there, which is why he’s risen to a level higher than our players here,” said Sutcliffe.

“He went to the UK a long time ago. He’s not gone through the Hong Kong development system and then been plucked to the UK from Hong Kong.

“What we’ve got to do is give the kids the same opportunity in Hong Kong as he’s received in the UK. So that’s more focused training and more academy development at other clubs and at the FA.”

Dai’s father told the Apple Daily his son had to work “twice as hard in the gym” to cope with the physicality of English youth players.

Watch: Bury’s Dai Wai-tsun (number 25) in action against Macclesfield Town

“When we benchmarked our players here against players from Europe a few years ago, we saw our players were between 15 and 25 per cent lower on the basic physical test for speed, agility, stamina,” said Sutcliffe. “That’s the magnitude of the gap.

“He does show that it can be done. That’s a great example for our players, they can do it.”

The HKFA have brought in a strength and conditioning coach from the United Kingdom to work with their other coaches and to put in place training programmes, while a purpose-built training centre is also under construction at the HKFA academy.

“We’re trying to develop an understanding of the level of fitness you’ve got to get to,” said Sutcliffe.

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“Not just that understanding, but then how you can go about doing it, training a few times a week in the gym as well as on the pitch.

“We’ve seen players from other Asian countries, particularly Japan. There’s a history of players going from Asia to the UK. Just not at the moment from Hong Kong.

“In the past that has been because of a lack of opportunity and we’re trying to overcome that.”

The HKFA has also arranged for English Premier League side Manchester United to send their under-16 academy squad to Hong Kong in August to train with their counterparts at the Hong Kong Football Academy.

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“If you’re playing with your own peers week in and week out, you don’t necessarily know the gap that exists between you and where you should be,” added Sutcliffe.

“But being exposed to playing against players from other countries, particularly from a team like Man United, they’re the best kids in England.

“Our players here have that opportunity. They’ll probably notice a difference. That hopefully will motivate them.

“They’ll see there’s room for improvement and they need to raise their game and their physicality above their peers here, to compete with players from other countries.”

Watch: Full highlights from Macclesfield Town v Bury