Issey Maholo is rapidly becoming a fan favourite for supporters of the Hong Kong Football Club after a series of quality performances for his team. Now with the first win in the top flight in his pocket, he has also been part of the HKFC side that won promotion to the Premier League last season. Maholo kindly took some time out to discuss his team’s current form and how he has been adapting to the new environment. Interview by Mark Hampson.
[The interview was conducted after the game against Kitchee and before the first HKFC victory against Sapling on October 2nd.]
How have you been personally adjusting to the top flight of Hong Kong football?
In terms of fitness I’m at the peak right now. I’m very fortunate to have great goalkeeping coaches around me both from my time living in America and now here at HKFC. Condition-wise unfortunately I have been struggling with a cold [when preparing for the game against Kitchee], so I haven’t been able to give 100% in training. I had a cramp in the middle of the game, which doesn’t usually happen to goalkeepers, but overall I’m in good shape and luckily I have been able to make some pretty good saves and hopefully I can keep it up this season.
How does it feel being a part-time player playing against full-time professionals and if the opportunity came around that HKFC becomes a professional team, would you take the full time route?
That is a very difficult question. I think there would be many factors involved for me to make that decision. I have been in the banking industry for over 8 years and I think I’m doing okay, to be honest at this age – having a family with two kids, being able too still proceed my banking career and playing football at the highest level – is not something that everybody can do and is not something that everybody will have the opportunity to do. I think Hong Kong is unique in terms that it was able to give me that opportunity. For now I haven’t even thought about playing professionally full-time, but if it came up I would discuss that. For now I’m just absolutely enjoying the experience.
How are Hong Kong Football Club as a whole adjusting to the top flight? With a new training programme, demands and pressures being put on the players?
I think everyone is coping with the change well. It was a tough transition for us and I think a lot of us still find managing a full-time job in the day and training at night a bit difficult. Personally – and I think I can speak for the rest of the guys as well – the most difficult part is taking care of our bodies off the pitch. When we come onto the field we will give 110%, but as you now, when being involved in full-time commitments during the day, we have to be absolutely solid in how we condition ourselves, eat well, eat at the right times and just be over-concerned of how we maintain our body off the pitch. I think that is the biggest difference between a full-time professional training, 3 hours a day, and a part-time professional with a full-time job.
How do you feel Hong Kong Football Club have improved. Has the training level and style improved, or do you still feel that HKFC is behind the likes of South China and Eastern?
I think we have massively brought up the level of intensity in our training, not just in the amount of training that we do. The club has obsessively given a lot of resources to the team, not just with equipment, but with also with support staff as well. We have a few physiotherapists coming in and out, coaches, as well as goalkeeping coaches. I think we have the same set up as some of the powerhouses in the league, including the facilities. I don’t think that anyone is concerned about it. Now I can see that the confidence level over the 1st, 2nd and 3rd game has increased massively and to be honest we played a good game against Kitchee. We were clearly seen as the underdogs but myself and the guys were very disappointed with the result. We feel that we could have gotten at least a point from Kitchee. With that in mind we are confident that we can achieve a lot more than what we have so far this season.
From watching the game against Kitchee in the stand it looked like your manager was not happy with the performance levels of some of the players at halftime. In general, when Kitchee were high pressing the ball, there seemed to be a lack of communication between yourself and your back line?
I think that is definitely what we took away and something that the two centre backs and myself will work on in the coming week, so we make sure that we make the right adjustments going into the next games.
Finally what would you like to say to your fan support so far?
I can only thank all these guys for coming in. Everyone is waiting for us to get our first points in the premiership and we owe it to these guys so we will continue working hard.
Thank you for your time!
The interview was conducted after the game against Kitchee and before the first HKFC victory against Sapling on October 2nd.