Gary White resigned as head coach of the Hong Kong national team on December 11th after being appointed just three months ago. Early reports indicated that he will take up the head coach position of a club in J2, the second tier of professional football in Japan. Despite his short time in Hong Kong, Gary White led Hong Kong to triumph in round two of the EAFF E-1 Football Championship, earning a place in the final round in 2019 with China, South Korea, and Japan. While his coaching was recognized by several national team players, his appointment was also criticized early on by a number of prominent figures in local football, including former HKFA board member Canny Leung and players like Chan Wai-ho and Chan Siu-ki.
The HKFA announced at noon of December 11th that Gary White, who was appointed just 92 days ago, resigned from the position as head coach of the Hong Kong national team. In an official statement, his contribution was recognized by the HKFA, stating that Gary White “has been very professional in the short time he has been at the Association.” The HKFA also confirmed that Gary White “was given the opportunity to join a club in Japan.” Early reports suggested that the club is currently in J2 and further information is expected soon. The decision may have also been affected by personal reasons, as it has been reported that White’s family currently resides in Japan as well. In recent years he had already obtained a Japanese coaching license and a club appointment appeared to be one of White’s main ambitions.
When Gary White was appointed as head coach on September 10th, 2018, the decision was met with objection from a number of stakeholders in Hong Kong football. Then HKFA board member Canny Leung threatened with resignation (which she followed through with in November 2018) due to an allegedly improper procedure and a supposed lack of transparency in the recruitment process. A number of players like former Hong Kong national team captain Chan Wai-ho and all-time leading goalscorer Chan Siu-ki suggested that other candidates for the job would have been a better fit.
Despite the hostile environment, Gary White’s results on the pitch exceeded expectations. After a loss to Thailand at home and an away draw with Indonesia in October, Gary White led Hong Kong to victory in the second round of the EAFF E-1 Football Championship – unbeaten with one win and two draws. The team managed to overcome DPR Korea to finish the group on top by goals scored, allowing Hong Kong to progress to the final round of the competition which will be held in South Korea in December 2019. Gary White was also praised by a number of players in the national team, especially for his efforts in building up the team’s confidence and for the positive atmosphere in the training camps.
However, Gary White’s success on the pitch did not put an end to the controversies around his appointment. Apple Daily published an interview with Canny Leung on November 21st, in which the former HKFA board member detailed her view on the supposedly unjust procedure, again questioning the transparency of the process as conducted by the recruitment panel. Her main critique appeared to be directed towards former CEO Mark Sutcliffe, who had left the FA by Ocotber 1st. The article made some waves and even led to an official inquiry in the Legislative Council, in which the government re-affirmed the legality of the recruitment. However, it remains unknown if this saga might have had any effect on Gary White’s early departure. Rumours that connected White with a J2 club first appeared right before the EAFF tournament, well before Canny Leung’s interview.
Shortly after Gary White’s resignation was announced, Canny Leung further criticized the recruitment procedure, which she claimed had led to the current turmoil. She also criticized the board in failing to supervise the process and suggested that no one will want to work with the HKFA in the long run. Although she earlier insisted that she does not object to Gary White himself, she seems to take pride to have predicted the outcome.
Meanwhile Chan Siu-ki suggested on social media that “our former head coach was waiting for a better job from the very first day”.