Who is Hong Kong’s new coach? ‘Future England manager’ Gary White’s in his own words
In-demand Englishman has experience around the world and has led four nations to their best Fifa rankings
After several months of speculation, Englishman Gary White was finally formally announced as the new Hong Kong football team head coach on Monday.
He’s fresh off a stint in charge of the Chinese Taipei Football Association’s men’s international side, and some regard him as Taiwan’s best manager ever on account of the dramatic rise up the rankings he oversaw with assistant manager Louis Lancaster.
So who exactly is the man tasked with getting Hong Kong football back to its best?
He started coaching early
White came up through the Southampton FC academy, his hometown club, but did not go on to a professional career with the south coast side or anywhere else. Instead his playing days were semi-pro at nearby Bognor Regis United in the lower tier of English football and at Western Australia state-league side Fremantle.
He retired at 21 in order to concentrate on coaching. “At that point I made a conscious decision that I needed 10 years headstart on those big players that are going to retire,” he said in an interview with These Football Times in 2015, “and the only way I’m going to get myself in front is to get coaching now and getting the experience because my playing background won’t put me in front of these people.”
Starting early is a message he returns to and now, aged 44, he has had two decades of experience most of it at the international level.
— Guam Football Assoc (@GuamFootball) July 10, 2013
He is very ambitious
White has made it clear that he sees himself as a future England manager. “People may look at that as a flippant remark about wanting to coach England, but for me it’s a definite desire,” he clarified in that same interview with website These Football Times. It’s a recurring theme. See this from an interview with Wild East Football in September 2017: “Ten years from now I want to be in the mix for the England job, that’s for sure.”
Before that he has made it clear that he expects to coach in Asia’s best leagues. “I want to be working in the J.League in Japan or the K-League in South Korea, which are very competitive leagues, in the next couple of years,” he told the BBC World Football programme in 2013.
He also suggested to the BBC that he might coach in England’s top flight.
“Then I see myself coming back to the UK and working in the Premier League with my ultimate goal being to work with the England national team,” he told Sky Sports
A Daily Mirror poll on the back of the historic 2018 World Cup qualifier victory over India with Guam in 2015 asked “Should we just give Gary White the England job right now?” Over 45 per cent voted “Yes” and another 14 per cent picked “In about 18 months”. That was back in June 2015.
— Football in HK (@offsideHK) September 10, 2018
He casts the net far and wide
Like other managers of nations with small populations, White has been willing to scour the globe for eligible players. His time in the youth setup of US Soccer helped when he became manager of Guam. “We found the best players who could play for Guam,” he told The Guardian.
First among them was Ryan Guy, then of the New England Revolution in the MLS, which in turn convinced others to join including LA Galaxy defender AJ DeLaGarza, who had played a friendly for the US.
White told KLeagueFootball.com that the defender was among several players who had never been contacted by Guam before.
For Taiwan, eligible players actually began to approach him, White admitted to Sky Sports.
That was the case with Will Donkin, the Oxford born, Eton-educated teenager who turns out for Crystal Palace academy and the Taiwan team.
He has top-level qualifications
White has a UEFA Pro Licence from the FA, which he got in 2016. That allows him to work in the Premier League and for other elite clubs. He also has an FA Elite Pro Licence, completed in 2013, as part of the first handpicked class of 16. All of them were under 40 and with the highest possible pass marks in the A Licence. Further, White has picked up qualifications in the US and Japan, one of a handful of foreigners to do so.
“I’d already got the highest qualification I could with the English FA but I wanted to get my Japanese qualifications too,” White told Sky Sports. “Not really because of necessity in terms of getting a job but because I wanted to immerse myself in the culture of Japanese football and Japanese people in terms of how they think and act.”
He was shortlisted for the England under-21 role
From a reported 250 applicants, White was one of a handful interviewed for the role vacated by Gareth Southgate when he left to take over the full national side in 2017.
He’s keen on sensible haircuts
“There were a few players with their hair dyed yellow when I took over and I told my translator I wasn’t keen on dyed hair,” White told Wild East Football of his time at Shanghai Shenxin. “Monday morning they all came in with their hair dyed back to their normal colour!”
It was a similar story on his arrival as Taiwan manager. In an interview with The Sun, White revealed he told goalkeeper Pan Wen-chieh to shave his head as a first order of business.
He embraces local culture as part of the team
Wherever he has coached, White has made sure to make the local cultures and customs a part of the set-up. In various interviews he has listed the Inifresi, a haka-like dance that formed a part of Guam’s pre-game ritual under him, while in the Bahamas it was bringing musicians from the Junkanoo festival into the ground for games.
In Taiwan it was a post-match press conference with the fans conducted pitchside using a loudhailer while his time at Shanghai Shenxin presented a few challenges.
He told Wild East Football that he got the player’s families to write messages to inspire them, while on another occasion it was pointed out that a youth teamer had lost a bet and could not afford to pay up on buying the squad ice cream – White’s Chinese wife suggested he help the player out with a red packet.
He wants his sides to play attractive football – and expects to win
White took over a struggling Shanghai Shenxin side that were on course for a second successive relegation.
By the end of the season, they were second top scorers in the league, comfortably mid-table and on such a run that White speculated if the season was 10 games longer they would lift the title.
“We don’t travel 29 hours for a loss. I am hopeful of a win,” he told the Muscat Daily ahead of playing Oman in 2016.
He is experienced
At 24 he took over the British Virgin Islands and spent a year in charge before moving on to Bahamas where he spent six years.
He got that first job after faxing them and several other federations a CV on hearing there was funding.
By this point he had already opened his own academy in Australia and had his first taste of coaching as a teenager back in the UK.
Before taking over Guam he was in the US with the national team setup, the Seattle Sounders Academy and Washington State.
He has also worked with the Chinese FA.
He’s got a philosophy
“I use the acronym S.O.U.L. Players must show sacrifice, ownership, unity and then leave a legacy,” he told ESPN. “Trying to achieve that is the test – the rest is easy as coaching is coaching and tactics are tactics. If players are not inspired and connected, then it is very difficult.”
A Fantastic October Night in TAIPEI.. pic.twitter.com/hB2lMZlz82
— Gary J. White (@GaryJWhiteTD) October 11, 2017
He’s used to managing the underdogs
Hong Kong’s qualification group means that more often than not they are the underdogs as they face the regional giants China, South Korea, Japan and North Korea. They also face teams where they are expected to win, of course, but results against the big boys are what will help Hong Kong towards qualification for a major tournament and White has a history of that everywhere he has gone. Nowhere more so than beating India with Guam.
He’s delivered results wherever he has gone
In club football, he saved Shenxin’s season and second tier status. In international football, it has been a case of four teams and four Fifa rankings highs.
Bahamas reached 145th in 2006, Guam to 146th in 2015, British Virgin Islands to 161st and Taiwan to 121st from 161st.