Pegasus, Rangers and Yuen Long will not participate in the remainder of the 2019-20 season.
The Hong Kong Football Association announced on Thursday evening that it had received letters from three clubs, notifying the organization of their intent to withdraw from the remainder of the 2019-20 Premier League campaign. At the close of the deadline, it was announced that Pegasus, Rangers and Yuen Long were the three clubs who had chosen not to participate.
With the Premier League down to seven clubs, this will be fewest number of clubs to complete a top-flight season since 2001-02.
Pursuant to Article D.8 of the Competition Regulations, the records of matches involving the three withdrawn clubs shall be “expunged from the league table.” Once this is finalized, the table will look as follows:
The three clubs will not be penalized as per Article Q.1 which covers withdrawal under force majeure, and will retain their right to compete in the 2020-21 Premier League season. However, should any club choose to self-relegate, the HKFA shall ask interested First Division clubs if they wish to promote. The deadline to apply for promotion is 31 May. Thus far, only Resources Capital have publicly announced their intention to apply.
Lee: “The media is more concerned about us than the HKFA”
The withdrawal of Pegasus was no surprise as Steven Lo had declared an end to Pegasus’ season on 7 April.
Yuen Long were reportedly wavering on their decision as early as the 13th, but news of their imminent withdrawal did not break until this past weekend when players were asked to terminate their contracts early and vacate any housing provided by the club before May.
Rangers remained the biggest wildcard until today due to the ambiguous position taken by Philip Lee. The Rangers director had stated on the 15th that the club were willing to finish the season if the government could promise to subsidize the match day operational expenses of the clubs. He had even put the likelihood of Rangers’ continued participation at “50-50” as late as Monday.
But when asked to explain his club’s decision today, Lee laid the blame squarely at the feet of the HKFA. “As a matter of fact, after the HKFA announced their plans for resumption, they didn’t even try to persuade or woo any of the clubs to carry on,” he claimed. “They never told us what the costs would be. All they did was send a boilerplate letter asking clubs if they would participate.”
When informed today that the HKFA had successfully obtained subsidies to cover all matchday and training ground expenses incurred by clubs in the months of February and March, Lee denied that he had prior knowledge of this before he decided to pull Rangers out.
“If we were to continue, we’d be doing the HKFA a favour,” Lee continued. “We hadn’t heard that the costs of the Sapling Cup matches (in February) would be covered, so (chairman) Peter Mok and I decided that Rangers would sit out the rest of the season in order to avoid any additional expenditures.
“As of this moment, (the HKFA) still haven’t reached out to me to ask about our intentions. The salaries of their staff are quite lucrative, but they can’t be bothered to build a strong rapport with the clubs. It’s really frustrating.”
He joked, “It’s like the media is more concerned about us than the HKFA.”
Lee finished by confirming that Mok had already paid out April and May’s salaries in advance. As for the club’s participation in the 2020-21 Premier League season, he remained non-committal, stating, “It depends on how much the HKFA will charge for match day costs and how much of it is subsidized. I can’t rule out self-relegation at this point.”
Tai Po respond to rumours of shortened AFC Cup
Reflecting on his club’s decision to carry on with the 2019-20 season, Tai Po head coach and director Fung Hoi-man cautioned that although his club would continue, the budget is set to be reduced and players will be asked to take a pay cut, if retained. “We’ve explained the situation to the players,” he stated. “We hope that it’s only temporary. The important thing is that by continuing to participate, we can continue to provide players with income.”
In a recent interview with a West Asian outlet, AFC General Secretary Windsor John revealed that the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup could resume in August under a shortened format. Any qualifying or playoff ties would be changed from two leg aggregate to just a single leg. Group stage matches for both the Champions League and the AFC Cup would be cut to a single round robin, meaning a reduction from six matches down to three.
Because the matches would resume in August, this presents a problem for Tai Po and Kitchee who may have to contend with fixture congestion upon the resumption of the season. However, Fung chose to take an optimistic outlook, saying that the league matches could be used a preparing for continental matches.
As for the makeup of the squad, he noted that as of today, only Michel Lugo and Ben van Meurs have left the club. Fung assured that much of the squad will remain unchanged and, depending on the club’s budget, he may elect to replace Lugo and van Meurs with local players.
Earlier, it was revealed that Fung had arranged for four young players to go on trial with a K3 side in June, provided that travel restrictions would be lifted by that time. Of the four players on the list, the most notable name was Tai Po left back Sun Ming-him.
When asked about potentially losing Sun with the AFC Cup set to return in August, Fung said that he would weigh the club’s interests with the pandemic situation in Korea. “I’ve kept in touch with the club involved,” he said. “If a trial can’t happen this year, then we’ll postpone it. Sooner or later, Sun and the others will have their chance to prove themselves in Korea.”