Hong Kong coach Kim Pan-gon hits back after criticism over local players
Korean says Dreams FC teenagers Tse Ka-wing and Cheng Chin-lung deserve their shot as he looks to transition from old guard
Hong Kong head coach Kim Pan-gon has knocked back suggestions he is under pressure to select more local players in his squad as he prepares for the crucial Asian Cup qualifier against Lebanon next week.
Just 10 of the 23-man squad – who will also play host to Bahrain on Thursday as preparation – are local players, including two young newcomers, goalkeeper Tse Ka-wing and forward Cheng Chin-lung, both of Dreams FC.
The Korean has been under fire for recruiting too many naturalised players since he was appointed to the job in 2012.
Just last month, three Spanish-born players – Jorge Tarres, Fernando Recio and Daniel Cancela – were all drafted into the team immediately after they obtained Hong Kong passports. All three players keep their place in the squad.
“My position is always under pressure, I know that clearly as I have been in Hong Kong for 17 years,” said Kim after leading his side’s first practice session at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground on Monday.
“But this is not the reason I picked more local players. From time to time, I have to recruit up-and-coming players into the squad as we need a smooth transition from some of our older players.
“Also, these young guns are performing well in the league and they deserve the opportunity. I know the two coming games are important but I always try to give chances to young players if possible.”
Kim was especially impressed by 19-year-old Cheng, the diminutive forward having played a key role in attack for his club despite his age, while Tse, 18, had a brief training stint with English League One side Bury in 2016 before returning home.
Other young players include Li Ngai-hoi of Pegasus, Tsui Wang-kit of Rangers and Tan Chun-lok of Wofoo Tai Po while veteran Lam Ka-wai is back into the squad after missing the last two international games.
The coach also defended his decision to keep most of the practice sessions behind closed doors as he wants the players to keep focused.
“We need concentration at this stage as we want to protect our players from some outside political influence,” he said.
Captain Yapp Hung-fai was also not worried the arrival of new young players would weaken the squad as they prepare for the two important games.
“They are not selected because they are young but because they have proved themselves on the field,” said the goalkeeper.
“Their arrival will certainly bring more stamina and energy into the squad. They may even have chances to play if they can convince the coach they are good enough with their form.”