Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA)

Gary White is on the rise and it’s time for Hong Kong to drink the Kool-Aid and get on board for the ride

The manager has a wealth of experience and has a history of taking teams to their best international ranking

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 August, 2018, 4:15pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2018, 1:13pm

A mixed bag. That’s been the response to news that the Hong Kong Football Association will finally replace departed coach Kim Pan-gon after the South Korean called an end to his second stint as men’s team boss late last year.

The man in question is Gary White, the English coach who has recently been in charge of Taiwan. And it is that kind of experience that is firmly in the pro column.

Taiwan are better than Hong Kong, ranked 19 places higher in the most recent Fifa rankings.

White took them to their highest ever Fifa ranking of 121 during his time – the fourth team he has taken to a best international ranking.

His first job was the British Virgin Islands 20 years ago before the Bahamas but White’s reputation is built on his four years in charge of Guam. Still only 44, that’s a lot of experience to bring to the role.

Hong Kong have bounced around the rankings over the past few years and need a steadying hand, particularly as the domestic game has gone dramatically downhill from its 1970s heyday.

The recently rebranded Hong Kong Premier League has not provided the competitive stimulus hoped for – at least not yet – with Kitchee expected to dominate again this season.

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Further to that, the grass roots measures brought in over the Project Phoenix and ongoing five-year plan are years from bearing fruit at the top level.

Barring crossing your fingers for the hard courts of Mong Kok to throw up a Maradona the solution for now is to wring every drop out of the available players and White has shown he can get performances out of limited talent everywhere he has gone.

If you can steady the ship at Shanghai Shenxin – and make them promotion contenders – then you deserve a shot.

Plus, he’s shown that he trusts in youth players, which means those that are good enough will get their chance when the time comes. Another positive, but perhaps no less important, is being positive.

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White will need his ability to spin the glass as half-full rather than almost finished and with a visible chip in its lip.

“More than half a dozen playing at a very high level in China” was how he described his Taiwan squad going into their Asian Cup qualifier against Singapore last year. These players are at League One and Two clubs while it’s best not to look too closely at where the “several others in Europe” ply their trade.

But it’s a good sound bite for the media.

As is “with that kind of talent, I’m not going to sit here and say we shouldn’t qualify, we absolutely should and it’s my job to come in and galvanise this group and help them reach their potential”.

Hong Kong football could do with drinking that Kool-Aid and the fact that he offers some self belief is a nice change. Plus they beat Singapore twice, finishing a point off qualification behind Turkmenistan and group leaders Bahrain, another team that they beat under White.

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The new boss will need all his positivity to see the good in a situation that has already seen his appointment questioned by the media and some of the biggest names in the local game.

HKFA media partners Oriental Daily have questioned whether Mr White is Mr Right, reporting Kitchee bigwig Ken Ng indicating that he felt for Spanish coach Josep Gombau after his treatment by the FA.

None of this is likely to bother the new man, another plus point.

White’s dealt with Chinese club ownership and come out on top, the same with the politics of national associations.

As for the media, the Taiwanese media’s previous hatchet jobs have been brought back to the fore since he was linked with the Hong Kong job.

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Accusations of overspending and being a Chinese Football Association stooge will be music to the haters’ ears but they will change their tune if he can get Hong Kong to where everyone wants them to be.

Hopefully, the ambitious White will get the time to do just that and drag the team along as own his star continues to rise.