Promising Hong Kong footballer Leung Yau-wai celebrated his 18th birthday last month in a unique way: by signing a three-year professional contract with Portuguese team Cova da Piedade.
The cool-headed midfielder – better known by his Hong Kong friends as “One Boy” – earned the deal after impressing at Hong Kong Premier League team Eastern Long Lions’ “Project E” programme.
“I’m very happy and excited to start. Being a professional player has always been my dream so I’m very thankful to have a platform to learn football in Europe,” said Leung, whose favourite player is Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos.
Cova da Piedad play in Portugal’s Second Division and Leung will join the club’s Under-19s for the time being. It won’t be the first time he has played in the country. He played for Portuguese Fifth Division team Pinheiro de Loures in 2018 before finishing the season with Eastern.
“I’ve already been here for about a year and a half,” Leung said. “The biggest difference between players from Hong Kong and Portugal is not actually height or speed, but their fundamentals and skills. They are so consistent here, and there are very few times where they lose the ball.
“My teammates have adopted the mentality of professional players when it comes to training – it’s not easy to take a break. I have to match them every session so I can develop as a player and consistently play at a higher level,” added Leung, who is taking Portuguese lessons.
Even professional footballers have to learn how to balance training with studies and extracurricular activities. The key is to get into a regular routine, said Leung. “Everything needs to be done with consistency and balance. I’m a footballer so I need to prioritise football. But work and my studies come before friends, and other things I put behind that. That’s personally how I would order it,” said Leung, who one day dreams of playing in the English Premier League.
There are very few Hong Kong players – men or women – playing overseas. Leung is more than excited to represent his city and hopes to see a day where there are many more Hongkongers in international football.
“I’m very proud to be a Hong Kong player signing a pro contract. I will try to get better every day and see if I can break into the first team,” Leung said. “My long-term goal is to see if I can bring something back to Hong Kong football and show people that those playing abroad can do well if everyone works hard together.
“I really hope we can get more young and hungry Hong Kong footballers playing abroad. We must not give up on a road that we’ve already come so far along. It would be great to see Hong Kong football become more successful.”
And although Leung is getting used to Portuguese cuisine, like most of us, he often thinks about the food he was brought up eating, especially if he’s homesick.
“Of course I miss Hong Kong, so when I do feel that way, I find a dim sum restaurant and reminisce about my home,” he said.