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Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA)

Gary White departs Hong Kong with warm praise for HKFA saying he would have only left for Tokyo job

  • No reason men’s team are not top a 100 side in Fifa rankings inside 12-18 months, says outgoing Englishman
  • Job should attract better candidates now the side has qualified for finals of EAFF tournament next December
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 1:17pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 1:17pm

“It’s been a little bit shorter than I imagined,” Gary White said of his 92-day stint as head coach of Hong Kong, which ended on December 11. “I don’t think there’s any job apart from this one (Tokyo Verdy) that I’d have taken.

“Tokyo’s very important to me and my family. My son was born in Tokyo. My wife studied there for 15 years. We’ve got a lot of close friends there.

“There are many reasons why it’s the right spot for me right now – and nothing to do with here. I loved it here.”

White is adamant he did not planto leave before the offer came through his Japanese agent on the Sunday following Verdy’s defeat in the J. League 2 promotion play-off on Saturday, December 8.

“[Hong Kong] were coming off a high. The last thing I was thinking about was leaving. I was planning for the next set of games.

“It came very quick ... in Japan they try to get everything done immediately.

“I’ve met Verdy before. They know of me. I guess it was just the right timing for them as well.

He spoke to his family, mentors and then informed the HKFA on the day he was expected to complete his probation but admits there is some sadness.

“I’m happy to go on to this next thing but I’m also sad to leave. I feel it’s still unfinished.”

He said he wanted to win the EAFF tournament with Hong Kong next December.

“The ideal scenario ... I’d have liked to have seen the East Asian Cup through because we’ve got a very good squad of players and a great atmosphere.

“Hopefully they stay a little longer than me,” White said of whoever follows him, but he thinks that the role might attract more interest after his stint in charge.

Better candidates will apply because the team is a “winning programme on the way up” and offers an “opportunity for an ambitious coach to play against the best teams in East Asia” at next year’s EAFF Championship finals he claimed.

The Englishman also thinks “you want someone that wants to be the best in the world” rather than coming to Hong Kong for a holiday. And he believes that those at the top of the HKFA, which he described as being “run like Apple”, will hire such a manager.

White also thinks the new man will be able to make a difference.

“For sure, Hong Kong football if it moves in the same direction, and follows the same philosophy in terms of how players approach the game, there’s definitely a top 100 team. It shouldn’t be languishing in the 140s, 130s – that could be as fast as 12 to 18 months,” White said.

White praised the staff at HKFA for their help and support, including the mentorship of acting CEO Paul Woodland and chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak.

“I had some great people – Hong Kong football encyclopaedias. They were fantastic in making sure we were effective with our time.

He even praised the league clubs for their support and access and his players, each of whom he personally messaged upon confirming he was leaving.

“There is a pool of players. A 40-45 player group that can take Hong Kong football to the next level, where they should be.”

The mentality is already changing as shown when they drew 0-0 with North Korea in Taiwan.

“After the game, our players felt like they lost the game. A massive sign of a switch in their mentality,” he said.

He has little time for those who were negative about his display of ambition.

“[The Hong Kong job] is a stepping stone. There’s always a stepping stone. Every country is a stepping stone, even if you coach Japan or Korea.

There was achievement in his three months at the helm, and a lesson in how much time coaches often waste.

“It might have been short but we’ve left an impact here, which hopefully one day will allow me to come back.

“I really believe Hong Kong football is in a good position. The national team is in a very solid position. I always said I think they’ve never really met their potential. I came here and all I saw was potential.

Was the negativity that had met his appointment a factor in his decision to leave?

“Maybe subconsciously,” White admitted but described the decision as “purely to do with my own ambitions”.

“You never want to read negative reports about yourself before you step off the plane. I used it more as a motivation and inspiration to push forward.

“But it did keep coming back up. It was a little bit frustrating sometimes but we were so busy at that time anyway it didn’t really bother me.

“That’s the only blip of my time here. Everything else has been spot on.”

For now he gets to return to the cut and thrust of club football.

“I love to be on the grass, I love to be with the players, I love to have the banter. I love to be part of that whole atmosphere,” he said, highlighting an element missing at the five national teams he has managed.

Nevertheless, he still wants to manage England one day and the next step towards that is promotion to the J1 League with Tokyo Verdy.