League

Poon Man-tik coy about Valley’s plans

Happy Valley

Happy Valley’s future in the Premier League remains uncertain after Poon Man-tik admits that the club’s boss has yet to give a firm commitment to finance the club next season.

Happy Valley’s season ended on Sunday with a 3-3 draw against Rangers, sealing the club’s fate at the bottom of the table. However, the HKFA had previously announced that promotion and relegation would be suspended for this season, opening the door for all eight Premier League clubs to remain in the top flight next season, should they so choose.

In the aftermath of the match, the embattled club’s director of football, Poon Man-tik, was asked to explain Valley’s future plans and whether the club would remain the Premier League. He admitted that issues off the pitch had led a difficult season for his club.

“The season was paused due to the pandemic and then lot of things happened to the team which have caused our performances to deteriorate,” Poon stated. “But overall, we’re satisfied with our players’ performances. In particular, we’re pleased with how they’ve come from behind in matches and in some cases, overcome deficits and win.”

This season has been an eventful one for Valley, even if the headlines were not always positive. The club, along with Pegasus, were temporarily suspended from play in February due to unpaid insurance premiums.

In March, head coach Pau Ka-yiu and player Lam Hin-ting were accused of sexism towards referee Gigi Law. The pair were later found guilty for their roles and given the FIFA minimum ban of 10 matches each, although Lam later paid a fine to reduce his ban to five matches.

“The incidents involving Pau and Fat Gor [Lam] obviously affected the team but thanks the collective efforts of our players, we showed a big improvement towards the tail end of the season,” he said.

Happy Valley overcame a brace by Rangers’ Lam Hok-hei (centre) but were unable to find a winner. (Credit: Rangers)

A lack of funds remained an overarching issue all season, hovering over the club like a dark cloud. Most players have not been paid in 7-8 months and there are rumours that the Labour Department has opened an investigation on Happy Valley’s arrears. Some players have tried to find part-time jobs during the season but have found it difficult to find work. Others are relying on credit cards to pay their bills due to lack of available funds in their bank accounts.

“Everyone is aware of the rumours,” Poon acknowledged, “Both the local and foreign players are under contract until the end of June. We’re trying to resolve the problems before their contracts are up and we remain optimistic that this will be the case.”

An unnamed player told Apple Daily on Monday that he finds this solution to be unsatisfactory. “I heard that once the club receives funds, they’ll pay the foreigners first,” said the player, who asked to remain anonymous. “But I haven’t received any salary for half a year. How is this fair to the local players? There’s no one out there to look after the livelihoods of the players.”

Some Valley players have taken to social media to express their unease over the salary arrears. The club themselves have posted a long, ominous message on their social media accounts on Sunday evening. It concluded by quoting a lyric from a song by local band, KOLOR, which read, “Quietly reminiscing about the halcyon days of yore, as beautiful as a meteor.” Full back Marco Cheung then responded to the post via Instagram, asking whether this was “The end…?

“In the past, even when I was still playing, we wouldn’t know whether club would carry on until one or two months before the start of the season,” Poon said, in response to questions about Valley’s future. “What’s different now is that social media didn’t exist back then.

“The HKFA have asked us whether we will stay in the Premier League next season and we’ve asked the boss about his intentions, but we’ve been unable to get a definitive answer. We’re going to continue to ask and we hope to sit down with him over the next two weeks. But regardless of the verdict, we’re going to announce our direction as soon as possible, we’re going to continue to work hard and hopefully, we can continue.”

Poon (left) with Cheung (right) post-match. (Credit: inmediahk)

Happy Valley came into Sunday’s match with a chance to win HKFA vice-chairman Matthew Wong’s $200,000 prize earmarked for the winners of the Relegation Group. The club fell behind three times against Rangers and found the equalizer each time. However, despite results going their way in the other match, Valley needed to beat Rangers in order to finish atop the group.

Two of Valley’s goals were scored by players under the age of 22 – fitting for a club which has made giving young players opportunities a part of the club’s ethos. When asked whether rival clubs may try to poach his players, Poon responded by saying that he would be pleased if this were the case.

“If other teams show interest in our players, it means that we’ve succeeded in developing players. And if other teams are interested in signing them, then we’ve achieved our goal. If they’re given a chance to be a starter at another club, then we’re more than happy to let them go. But if they’re only leaving to be a backup, then we need to sit down with them and discuss [whether this is the right move].”

As for the foreign players, Poon said that it had been a “pleasure” to work with them but the decision on which players to re-sign depended on each player’s demands.

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