Give Gary White the support he needs, warns ex-Hong Kong FA boss ahead of new head coach’s first game in charge
Mark Sutcliffe says ‘best man for the job’ got it and delay in hiring him was unavoidable as Mong Kok welcomes Thailand team for first game of new era
As Gary White prepares to make his bow as head coach of Hong Kong against Thailand at Mong Kok Stadium on Thursday, the man who hired him is convinced he is the right man to take the team up the Fifa rankings.
“From what I’ve seen, he’s only been here a couple of weeks, but he’s started very well,” said Mark Sutcliffe as his own time at the HKFA drew to an end.
“He’s a very positive person. He’s very enthusiastic. He’s already made a good start going around talking to the clubs, meeting the players. I saw his plan and strategy for our upcoming friendlies. He’s very well organised. Very detail minded.
“Wherever he’s been, he’s had success. I think he’s a good man manager, a good motivator. I’ve already seen him working with the players. I think they respect him. I hope the clubs respect him and I hope they co-operate with him. When I first came here the clubs weren’t co-operating with the then head coach Ernie Merrick. That relationship was a complete disaster.”
Sutcliffe is hopeful those days are in the past.
“It does need a positive relationship between the clubs and the head coach but from what I’ve seen so far I think Gary’s got the personality. He’s pretty thick-skinned, he’s not gonna worry about criticism. You can’t be a football manager for that length of time without developing a cocoon that you build around yourself.”
The outgoing CEO gave short shrift to anyone questioning White’s appointment.
“He was the best candidate during the recruitment process. We had 115 applications. A longlist of 17 and we interviewed nine and he was the unanimous choice of the four people on the panel. He’s got the qualifications, he’s got the track record in Asia. His interview answers were better than anyone else’s.
“I’m optimistic that if he’s given the chance, then I think he’ll do a good job.”
Some within the Hong Kong football family might not want him to.
“I don’t think it’s a secret one of the directors of the FA didn’t think he was the right choice. One or two people from outside, from the club sector, didn’t think he was the right choice. They weren’t involved in the recruitment process, so I think they should just back him.
“He was the best candidate, he’s got the job. Now is the time to put all of that to one side and get on with it, give him the support that he needs.
“It’s not a difficult job watching football and picking a team. It’s not a difficult job. But the pressure is and you do need everyone to work together. Everybody wants the representative team to be successful and if they don’t then they shouldn’t be involved in football.
Sutcliffe also explains why it seemingly took so long to employ a replacement for former head coach Kim Pang-gook. The delay was in the already agreed decision to split Kim’s combined roles of head coach and technical director, which had to be ratified by the government and then had to be rushed when Kim left for a new job in December rather than at the end of his contract in June.
“As soon as we got the green light, we advertised the next day. The FA worked as quickly as we could but it was within those constraints.”
“As far as the external perception goes: ‘The FA’s useless, why has it taken nine months to get a replacement?’ It’s frustrating.”
White is in and he has something that Kim did not: the brand new football training centre at Tseung Kwan O.
“We took possession on the 3rd of August from the contractor and immediately started to use it. Our players train on it. The team that went to the Asia Games trained there.
“It’s up and running. When I came here and was doing the original study, I found a file dating back to 1995 with a plan for a football training centre and Tseung Kwan O. It’s 25 years old that idea. It’s only just to come fruition now.
Sutcliffe stayed on to see it in use.
“I was going to finish in March. The reason I agreed to stay another six months was because it wasn’t finished and I wanted to see it through. That’s been one of my babies. When I came I found the file and said, ‘Why’s this not happened?’ The biggest problem in Hong Kong is a lack of facilities. There’s 17 full-size pitches, half of which are not actually full-size. If we can get six pitches, that’s massive.
“Kim’s teams were playing against China and other international teams and didn’t have a base to train. One day they are training on the Sai Kun Po grass pitch, the next they are Shek Kip Mei on the artificial pitch. We needed that training centre. It’s fundamentally important. It was difficult to get off the ground, people said it won’t happen and it has happened. I really wanted to stay and see it finished. Now it’s finished. Job done”
A job well done, you might say, now time for White and his players to do their own.