There are many football coaches quietly working behind the scenes to help revamp Hong Kong youth football from the grassroots level up, and one such name is Stephen Tucker who is both academy and 1st team coach at HKFC.
Bringing a wealth of experience from his time in Canada, where he was head coach for Blizzard Soccer Club (2011-2015) and technical coach for Alberta Soccer Association (2012-2014), Tucker has dedicated his time in Hong Kong to coaching youth players to fulfill their potential. Tucker is tactically aware and knows what he is talking about, as he has achieved his Level 3 and 4 coaching badges with FIFA and also holds the UEFA A License (Part 1) and B license.
In a recent interview, Stephen Tucker shared his views on Hong Kong’s youth training and culture. He first talked about the style of football he likes to promote.
“I like the aggressive side of football, both with and without the ball. But if the team has the ball, then I would like the pace to move really fast, like one or two touches if possible, up until the final third. Then we are looking for creativity and a nice through ball or something like that. Every team that I have, the style of play is similar, especially with the youth teams which I coach.”
When the topic of nature versus nurture came up, he said cultural aspects remain important.
“I think it is cultural. If you look at Spain, then from a very young age they know that they have to pass, open up and use the ball. In England, it is very aggressive without the ball, and when they get the ball, then it is the mindset of ‘Can we put it there and can we fight for it?’”
In his role as the 1st team coach of the Hong Kong Football Club, Tucker also reviewed the last season when the team was relegated from the Hong Kong Premier League. He spoke of the tiredness that the part-time players experienced as the season wore on.
“After the relegation I think a lot of the players were burnt out, as they were still working and were on a contract of one dollar per month, competing against some guys who were making HK$ 150,000. They are working, then coming to training late at night, whereby a professional team has training in the morning, then can go home to rest at night. So there is a big burn out factor there and you can still see that now in some of our players who are competing in the 1st Division this season. I think everyone wanted to have a go at it, but soon realised how tough it would be. The club took points early on in the season, which has never happened before. Later fatigue took hold and maybe we were too fit too early.”
Tucker also offered his ideas on what could be done to improve Hong Kong football from the bottom-up.
“I believe it is about getting an identity. Mr. Xavier Bravo Giménez at the HKFA is doing a really good job. He has come from Barcelona and is bringing that style which suits Hong Kong players. Physically, I don’t think Hong Kong players will ever be able to compete with the naturally bigger nations, but I think we can use the ball. In a recent U14 game, the Hong Kong team passed us off the pitch, but outside of the national youth team, I do not think they do enough and some teams are just a collection of very good players who go out and play. It shouldn’t take long to catch up with them, except for Kitchee maybe.”
Tucker pointed out that smaller nations like Iceland, with their population of 300,000, were consistently punching above their weight.
“You have to look at nations like Iceland, which are snowed under a lot of the time, so they are indoors and I don’t believe for a second that Hong Kong is disadvantaged.”
Tucker is also a game analyst, so he shared what it entails and how persistence was important.
“I started analysing my youth team literally with pen and paper, like successful passes. I had an interest from a young age. It was a good way for me to see if players were improving, for example, if their passing and possession levels increased or not, if they made better passes in the final third or got their passes into the box. This is how I got interested in it, but it becomes a full-time job in terms of video recording and editing. When I first started to do it, then it took me 16 hours for one game. I did a lot of work for my youth teams, but in the end the managers wanted to see how some teams were building up in their defensive third. It can be tedious, but I enjoy doing it for the youth teams, as I can see how our players develop and tell them where they need to be when they have the ball.”