HK Team

Udebuluzor pledges allegiance to Hong Kong

FC Ingolstadt

Michael Udebuluzor has committed to representing Hong Kong after a year of speculation about his international allegiance. The 19-year-old plays for FC Ingolstadt’s U19 team and is the son of Cornelius Udebuluzor.

Michael Udebuluzor, a striker for FC Ingolstadt’s U19 team, revealed his intention to play for the city in an exclusive interview with the German football website Transfermarkt. The 19-year-old, who signed a professional contract with Die Schanzer on his 18th birthday, was the U19’s second leading scorer last season.

Udebuluzor is the son of Cornelius Udebuluzor, himself a striker who spent seven seasons in Hong Kong between 2000-2007 playing for Sun Hei and Rangers, and was the First Division’s Golden Boot winner in 2001-02. The younger Udebuluzor was born in Hong Kong in 2004, and was part of Kitchee’s youth setup until he left for Germany in 2018 to train at the German Football Boarding School (DFI).

“It was not easy, it was cold, I didn’t speak the language and my family was far away,” the prospect recalled of his arrival in Germany. “But I could train the whole day and got every support I needed for my football career.”

The 19-year-old had previously revealed to Transfermarkt last year that he moved to Germany at 14 years old by himself and had not seen his family since, though he had wanted to visit them in 2021. He also stated that his focus was on playing for Nigeria – the country of his father’s origin – and that his advisors were in contact with the Nigeria Football Federation.

Udebuluzor finally got the chance to return to Hong Kong during the German season’s winter break and he revealed that he had a change of heart during that time about his international future.

“In December, I flew to Hong Kong to see my family again after many years in which this was not possible due to the pandemic and I took the opportunity to apply for my (Hong Kong) passport,” he said. “Unfortunately, I don’t know when it will be sorted so I won’t be able to play for Hong Kong during this international break, but I’m very hopeful that I’ll be able to join them for the next international window.”

The striker admitted that during his visit, a crucial meeting with Hong Kong head coach Jörn Andersen helped to push him in the direction of representing the city of his birth.

“I was born and raised in Hong Kong, I attended school there and learned how to play football there,” Udebuluzor said. “But the decisive factor was Andersen, who has great faith in my abilities and holds me in high regard. We met in Hong Kong at the beginning of January and he made it clear to me once again that I play a very important role in his plans. So the decision was made to play for Hong Kong and I look forward to representing the city soon.”

Udebuluzor has scored four goals and one assist this season, though he has missed time due to an Achilles injury. He revealed during the interview that Andersen had arranged for a personal trainer to help him deal with the injuries he has suffered this season.

“Unfortunately, my development has stagnated this season due to minor injuries and illness,” he explained. “The injuries have made he stronger mentally and I’m convinced that I have what it takes to gain a foothold in professional football. I’m looking forward to what’s ahead and I’m chomping at the bit for every new challenge.”

Analysis: Udebuluzor commitment represents rare recruitment win for Hong Kong

As far as international commitments go, there are few quite like this one for Hong Kong. Although Udebuluzor has yet to play a minute of first team football for FC Ingolstadt, it is rare for any Hong Kong player to even have the talent to earn a spot on a European club’s youth side. There have been previous examples of Hong Kongers who have played at his level but either due to passport eligibility or personal choice, things have not worked out.

Andersen finally got his man after recruiting Udebuluzor for over a year. (Credit: HKFA)

As has been previously mentioned, Hong Kong’s nationality laws make the recruitment of overseas players challenging. Although the HKFA promised in their Vision 2025 strategic document to do better in this regard, the fact remains that Hong Kong’s nationality laws are quite restrictive. Udebuluzor has never represented Hong Kong at the youth level in part due to his absence from the city, but mainly due to the fact that he did not have a passport.

Should the 19-year-old make his international debut later this year, he would be the rare example of a teenage debutante for Hong Kong. Mahama Awal, who recently received his passport, was cited by Andersen as an example of a player with “experience playing in leagues with a higher standard” and who could add “stronger intensity and physicality” to the team. Despite being 31, Awal, too, can be considered a young debutante for Hong Kong, which has a habit of chasing after naturalized players in hopes of finding short term solutions.

But Udebuluzor is not one of those. He is a player who has his future ahead of him, who had other options, but who has nevertheless, pledged allegiance to a team ranked 146th in the world. In securing his commitment, Andersen has grabbed a victory on the recruiting trail as he has at least opened the door for Hong Kong to harness all of its available options in adding talent to the Hong Kong team pool.

Udebuluzor’s addition also helps Hong Kong at a position where they sorely lack depth. The team lacks clear options at the number 9 position outside of Matt Orr and Sun Ming-him. It is a position where the development system has been unable to produce a replacement for all-time leading scorer Chan Siu-ki, meaning that they have needed to rely on the import of naturalized players to fill the position.

Again, there is no guarantee that Udebuluzor will become a star for Hong Kong in the future or have a long career in Europe. Nor, should Hong Kong fans put such expectations on a 19-year-old whom they have likely never seen play.

The victory here is mostly symbolic at this point until Udebuluzor is able to prove himself on the pitch. Whether this will be a watershed moment where other overseas Hong Kongers put themselves on Andersen’s radar or commit to playing for Hong Kong is anyone’s guess. The most important point is that Hong Kong needs victories on the pitch in order to inspire more kids to play football, more adults to become coaches, and more businesses to invest in the game – particularly at the grassroots level.

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