By Christopher KL Lau
Kitchee’s Abraham García is the man tasked with bringing Kitchee to the grand and lofty heights of the Asian Champions league group stages and this affable and resourceful man with a wealth of management and coaching experience may just be the man to take both Kitchee and Hong Kong football to the next level.
Garcia has had the enviable role of coaching and developing some of the finest Spanish youth players such as Juan Mata, David De Gea and Fernardo Torres whilst as a youth coach in Spain at both Madrid giants (Real and Atletico). After managing the Atletico Madrid B-team between 2007 and 2009, he was in charge of Montañeros CF and CD Toledo in the Spanish Segunda Division B. In 2014 he moved to Ningxia, where he coached the China League 2 team Yinchuan Helanshan. With his excellent reputation and hardworking nature, he has since stepped into the vacated Kitchee role with relative ease and has taken a positive view to Hong Kong life.
Garcia kindly took time out of his busy schedule to have a chat with Christopher KL Lau of Offside.hk to discuss this transtion into Hong Kong football and life at Kitchee.
How has the season been so far for both yourself in your new role and for Kitchee?
The first thing is when Kitchee called me to be the head coach of the first team and when we first made contact, I knew of Kitchee a long time ago when I worked in China. I knew the history of Kitchee and the last five years whereby Kitchee have transformed themselves one hundred percent from a normal team into a winning team where they won trophies and cups. If we are talking about last season then they won three titles. When I initially spoke to the club then they gave me this job and opportunity to work in two ways. One was to coach and manage the first team and to continue the winning mentality and to keep on fighting and competing for trophies. The second way was to continue working for this spectacular centre (Kitchee Training ground) in the development of the players and to give four to five youth players we have who are sixteen and seventeen and place them near the first team.
Aside from winning trophies, we have to get ready for a transition. Life is like a circle, it is like a transition as it is not easy to win every game and you have to be ready. We have to be balanced and we have to be ready to take the responsibility to be professional and give our best and try and do the same as last year as the other teams want the same as you.
Kitchee have been drawn against Hanoi in the Asian Champions League and the winner will play Pohang Steelers. Can Kitchee realistically win both games and reach the group stages?
I think in football of course, you have to go step by step. It is true that if Kitchee have a chance to go to the next round then this would be the first time in history that a Hong Kong team have made it. We have the opportunity to play in Vietnam and of course, we can have a chance as it is football and now we have the chance to decide what is our best squad to take to the games knowing that the rules are strict given that we are only allowed three foreigners. We will try and prepare the match as well as possible and yes it is a difficult match but the draw is not too bad. If we do progress then we have the next step. We know that the Korean team (Pohang Steelers) are of a very high standard and level as we all know that the Korean, Japanese and Chinese leagues are the strongest leagues in Asia. We will focus on the first game against the Vietnamese and then we can dream and sometimes dreams can be real.
What are your Initial Impressions of both Hong Kong football and life in Hong Kong in general?
Yes, of course as I know Hong Kong is one of the top cities for living in the world. I worked in China before and it was pretty good there and the club took care of me every moment of everyday. I know Hong Kong is another world and Hong Kong has many expats and you can get all the things you need. For me, I don’t need Western food as I like Asian culture and in this case, I like Hong Kong food, Hong Kong culture and the people here and the lifestyle.
I like Hong Kong life and the only problem is that my family are quite far away as this move was very fast as I decided to come here (Kitchee) to take up this opportunity. I believe this would be one of the best challenges in my life and it is a pity they (family) cannot come with me to live this ‘expat’ life.
As for Hong Kong football, I know a little bit of the history as in the eighties and nineties, local soccer was very good and it has since gone down and is beginning to rise again though the work of the Hong Kong Football Association with youth development and more resources focused on the national team as seen with the two matches against China. The key to help Hong Kong football is to work hard with the Hong Kongers, not only in the clubs and the academies but with programs in schools and with physical education in order to build up a big base where many many Hong Kong kids love soccer to help build up motor skills which will help the game in the long term.
How would you describe your coaching style and is it in line with the Kitchee philosophy?
I know that there are many discussions about coaching. In my case, I started coaching sixteen year olds about twenty five years ago and I was lucky as I coached the best players in the world and I was lucky as I was involved in the academies with two of the best teams in Spain (Real and Atletico Madrid). In these two academies, you must do two things. You must improve the individual players and you have to create an atmosphere where possession and style are emphasized to control the match. I know of this philosophy and I know Mr. Ken’s ideas and I think all the coaches want the best for the team. We all want to put the ball in the net and win the match but there are different ways to do this. All coaches have their own style. For example, I like and love to develop players in order to develop the team. I think all players could be better at every time and everyday and every moment. When you improve the level of the players then you improve the level of the team. There are players who like to coach just eleven or twelve players but I like to coach everybody and improve everybody as this improves the team overall.
Preliminary Stage 1 – East (January 27, 2016)
Kitchee (HKG) – Bye
Yangon United (MYA) – Bye
Mohun Bagan (IND) v Tampines Rovers (SIN)
Johor Darul Ta’zim (MAS) – Bye
Preliminary Stage 2 – East (February 2, 2016)
Hanoi T&T (VIE) v Kitchee (HKG)
Chonburi (THA) v Yangon United (MYA)
Shandong Luneng (CHN) v Winner of Mohun Bagan (IND) v Tampines Rovers (SIN)
Muangthong United (THA) v Johor Darul Ta’zim (MAS)
Playoff Stage – East (February 9, 2016)
Pohang Steelers (KOR) v Winner of Hanoi T&T (VIE) v Kitchee (HKG)
Japan 4th club v Winner of Chonburi (THA) v Yangon United (MYA)
Adelaide United (AUS) v Shandong Luneng (CHN) or Winner of Mohun Bagan (IND) v Tampines Rovers (SIN)
Shanghai SIPG (CHN) v Winner of Muangthong United (THA) v Johor Darul Ta’zim (MAS)
Christopher KL Lau is a photographer, editor and marketing consultant for offside.hk https://twitter.com/Chris_KL_Lau