The new season is just around the corner and with Kitchee and Eastern two clubs have already kick-started their pre-season earlier this week. More teams will follow suit in the coming days and reveal their new signings. Understanding how confusing and scattered the transfer news is for lcoal fans, offside.hk’s Christie Leung has compiled a guide for proper navigation, especially for up and coming fans who are not too familiar with the league yet.
Transfer window basics
Officially, the window for 2017/18 has started on July 4th and will close on September 25th. However, as most of the players are free agents, the window does not play a very important role. The mid-season window will be much shorter, and will start in January. Players in Hong Kong usually have short contracts, for one or two seasons, so there are hardly any transfer fees involved. The latest one was Eastern’s naturalized centre-back Roberto Affonso, who switched for allegedly HK$ 250,000 to R&F, and some might still remember the big drama surrounding Chan Siu-ki, who changed for roughly HK$ 200,000 from South China to Pegasus last January.
Focus on foreign signings
Signings of foreign players are usually the biggest headlines during this time of the year, as they also make up the spine of every team. Last season’s MVP was Kitchee’s Fernando, who has clearly stolen the show by earning a clean sweep of HKFA awards. Every team has to follow the 5+1 quota for foreign aids, meaning one out of the 6 foreigners needs to hold a passport of an AFC member country. Four of the foreigners can be fielded at the same time no matter if an AFC player is involved or not, hence a 4+0 on the pitch is also possible. Compared to the Chinese Super League, where clubs can only use three foreigners for the entire match, Hong Kong sides can use all of them as substitutes throughout the game. As the rule is different from the AFC standards, this provides some headaches for teams like Kitchee and Eastern, who are only allowed to register 3+1 foreigners in the Asian Champions League.
So what sort of players can we expect to see? Previously we had big names like Nicky Butt and Mateja Kežman donning the red shirts of South China, and with our clubs now being able to participate in the AFC Champions League, the readiness to invest into bigger names could slowly return. In the second half of last season, a lot of fans were wowed by the qualities of Kitchee’s Krisztián Vadócz, holder of 40 caps for the Hungarian national team, who played a crucial role in their final run for the title. His contract extension with Kitchee certainly felt like a key achievement for the fans. In the current transfer window, Eastern have also stepped up their game, upgrading their squad with Aleksandr Kokko, a Finnish international, and Vitor Saba, an AFC Championship League winner with Western Sydney Wanderers in 2014.
Who are the local lads?
Starting from July 1st, 2017, the HKFA has readjusted their definition for local players to align them with AFC rules. Previously players who just held a permanent HKID could qualify as local players, that included Chinese/Macanese players who have stayed in Hong Kong for two years, foreign players who have stayed here for seven years, or players with Hong Kong-Chinese parents who grew up overseas. However, now – in order to count as local – everyone will be required to have the same level of identity to represent the Hong Kong National Team, which means being in possession of the HKSAR passport. Nevertheless, all local players who have been registered under the old rules before July 1st will be exempted from this change. That means players such as Sean Tse, Lam Zhi-gin, Matt Lam, Jared Lum, Leong Ka Hang and Shay Spitz can remain domestic players despite not qualifying to represent Hong Kong internationally at the moment. Foreign players who have stayed in Hong Kong for seven years, such as Dani Cancela, Nando Recio, Jordi Tarres, and Clayton are expected to complete their naturalization processes within the next season.
Where is my club?
Every season there are clubs disappearing and new clubs being born, mainly due to sponsorship and management changes. The biggest news – or better shock – this summer was the voluntary withdrawal of South China from top-flight football after almost 110 years of existence. More than half of their players have found new clubs, while a few, including fan favourites Nikola Komezec, Bojan Malisic and captain Chan Wai Ho, have yet to resolve their ongoing contracts before they could sign with someone else.
While the HKFA membership of a club usually continues to exist, the affiliated club might appear with a totally different outlook each season. The previous Biu Chun Rangers of 2015/16 had a different ownership and management structure than Lee Man Rangers of last season, while being de facto still the “same” club. For next season these changes will be reversed again, and you will get your Biu Chun Rangers back.
If you have watched Dream Metro Gallery in 2015/16, you might also still wonder where the club has actually gone to. Or how the sponsor, the coaching team and the main squad of Glory Sky Wong Tai Sin would find resurrection in the name of BC Glory Sky last season. To make matters even more confusing, BC Glory Sky will be turned into Dreams FC – who have nothing to do with the former Dreams Metro Gallery. However, as former BCGS manager Chiu Chung Man is joining the team, one may expect some familiar faces to ‘remain’.
Starting from last season the HKFA has introduced a “sponsored membership” for the Hong Kong Premier League, by allowing Chinese Super League club R&F to send their reserve team to Hong Kong – after paying an entry fee of HK$ 1 million. Following a distinct purpose of breeding their youth talents, R&F were granted special exemptions in their team selection. While they were allowed to field players from Mainland China without any restrictions, they were still required to register eight Hong Kong players and to field at least three of them in every game. The club managed to survive relegation last season, but this year they are going to be a force to be reckoned with. After investing roughly HK$ 20 million, they have upgraded their team significantly. This season they will also be allowed to sign three foreigners, and to field two of them at the same time. In addition they will host their home games across the border in Guangzhou.
But it’s not a precedence anymore. In fact, we will welcome another sponsored membership this season, as Lee Man have also paid HK$ 1 million to field an independent team. However, there won’t be too many new faces, as the team will look suspiciously similar to last season’s Lee Man Rangers.
Follow your crew
While they are de facto two different clubs, Lee Man Rangers of last season and Lee Man of this season will appear highly identical. You might say, this kind of “jumping ship” is one of the unique traits of Hong Kong football. There are several manager personalities who have a strong preference for or relationship with certain players. So often it matters less to which team you belong than whose orders you take. Prime examples are “Daddy Kin” (Tai Po’s head coach Lee Chi-kin) who usually gathers the “Kin Army” around him, including national team players Wong Wai and Lee Ka-yiu, who have been following their coach since 2010, all the way from Sham Shui Po, to Yokohama, to Pegasus, and finally to Tai Po. The short contracts make such switches ever so easy, so be ready that you might not recognize your team anymore one day.
You may see him today, but he might be gone tomorrow
And then there are the players, you might not remember, because you actually have never seen them. In 2015, Rangers announced the signing of Japanese player Seito Seiji, but his stay lasted only 20 hours as “he found it difficult to adapt to the artificial training environment”. There were some signings that lasted longer than his, but barely long enough to make an appearance in the league. Kitchee’s Orhan Mustafi comes to mind. So if there is a new signing that excites you, be swift in your action and greet him, as you never know how long he will be in town.
Check out now our updated list of all transfer activities here!