Hong Kong football needs to look past Gary White’s short (but successful) reign and continue to be brave

  • HKFA would be wrong to return to a safe pair of hands in the role
  • Englishman’s record is proof they took the right approach to improve football
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 December, 2018, 7:04am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 December, 2018, 10:43am

It might not make it on to a list of the shortest managerial reigns in football, but Gary White’s effect on Hong Kong’s football scene could last much longer than his 92-day reign.

From when he was hired on September 10 until he handed in his notice on December 10, he had a positive effect.

White also surprised everyone by taking the team to Taiwan, his previous employers, and coming back as winners of the EAFF qualifying tournament ahead of the hosts, Mongolia and North Korea.

Hong Kong had also risen three places in the Fifa World Rankings, up to 141 at the end of November.

He made an immediate impact, but whether it can be built on is anyone’s guess, as is to who will be in charge when the side travel to South Korea to face Japan, China and the hosts in the EAFF finals next December.

The manner of his departure and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it length of his tenure could be seen as negative, and as proof he was the wrong hire.

The Hong Kong Football Association is set for a period of great change, one that could have been made easier with a head coach in charge.

In addition to White’s replacement, it still needs to find a chief executive to replace Mark Sutcliffe after he left in September and it is also braced for elections for a new chairman in June.

The HKFA admitted there was “room for improvement” in its recruitment process when it was discussed in the Legislative Council and it has an almost immediate chance to get that right.

But have officials had their fingers burned by White?

They need a coach in place before the qualifying campaign for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar begins next September but the tumult surrounding the rest of the HKFA makes for an interesting climate in which to hire.

Can they risk another ambitious appointment?

White was just that – an in-demand coach with a résumé that showed he had an immediate effect on teams.

White made no secrets of his ambition – he wants to manage England at some point – and Tokyo Verdy is a good fit for building his profile and experience in the cut and thrust of club football.

The club just missed out on a return to the J.League 1 this season, losing to Jubilo Iwata in the promotion play-off.

The day in, day out nature will suit him in his aims more than a national team role.

While understandable on a personal level, as White returns to the country where his wife and child live and where he has done the relevant qualifications, it leaves a bad taste.

He was clearly in talks with the Japanese club months back, perhaps even before signing on to lead Hong Kong. If that’s the case, then it is no wonder that some fans will feel misled, as will those on the HKFA board who advocated for his appointment.

To use the parlance of modern dating, it’s not quite a “ghosting” but it’s a stab in the heart for those who wanted a long, glorious romance.

Former HKFA board member Canny Leung Chi-shan did not approve of the appointment, and resigned from her position at what she regarded as failings in the recruitment process.

She also referred to the role as a “stepping stone” and not in a good way.

If this J.League courtship has been ongoing, and it surely has, then Hong Kong was not so much a stepping stone but a holiday romance.

Perhaps we should accept the role as just that, somewhere for younger coaches to thrive before moving on to bigger, better roles.

Why should Hong Kong not attract highly rated young managers and see the benefit of them, at least until Kenneth Kwok Ka-lok or another local coach is ready to step up?

That would have to be better than playing it safe or getting back together with an old flame.

Feeling “ghosted” or otherwise, Hong Kong football has to put itself out there again.

Better that than being stuck in a loveless rut.