Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA)

Kim Pan-gone! Shock for Hong Kong as head coach quits ahead of crucial Asian Cup qualifier

The 48-year-old, who took over as acting head coach in 2012, returns to South Korea as technical director of national team

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 December, 2017, 7:25pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 December, 2017, 10:25pm

Kim Pan-gon has surprisingly quit as head coach of the Hong Kong national soccer team despite having six months left on his contract with a crucial Asian Cup qualifier to come against North Korea.

The Korea Football Association announced on Tuesday it had appointed the 48-year-old as technical director of the South Korea national team.

Kim, who took over as acting head coach of Hong Kong in late 2012, was not available for comment but Hong Kong Football Association chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak confirmed the South Korean’s departure.

“It’s an honour for Hong Kong soccer as Kim’s management skills have attracted South Korea who possess a much higher level of ability than us,” said Leung.

“Despite his new appointment back home, Kim will keep close ties with Hong Kong and visit us on a regular basis.

“He has been here for many years and indeed it’s time to bring in some fresh ideas for the national team as we will soon start a worldwide search for the job.”

Kim was believed to be one of the highest-paid coaches in the city with an annual pay package reaching HK$2 million.

But Leung insisted Kim’s departure will not affect Hong Kong’s preparations for the do-or-die clash against North Korea in three months, where they will look to qualify for their first Asian Cup finals.

Hong Kong must beat the home team in Pyongyang in March to join group leaders Lebanon in the 2019 tournament in United Arab Emirates.

“The national team players are already there and the formation has been fixed under Kim’s instructions over the years,” said Leung.

“If we can’t find a replacement in time, we can rely on the other coaches who have been working with Kim for a long time and know how to execute Kim’s plan.”

After finishing his professional career in Hong Kong with Rangers in 2004 following spells with K-League sides Ulsan Hyundai and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Kim returned to South Korea to earn his professional coaching license.

He joined domestic Hong Kong heavyweights South China in 2008, leading them to the First Division Championship for two consecutive seasons and reaching the 2009 AFC Cup semi-final.

Kim left South China in 2010 before returning to Hong Kong the following year as head of the HKFA academy.

He took up the position of acting head coach for the national team in November 2012 following the resignation of Ernie Merrick and his role was made permanent six months later.

He famously helped the team to two draws against China in the second round of Asian Football Confederation qualifying for the 2018 Russia World Cup.