Players and coaches welcomed the adoption of the five substitution rule as they returned to training over the weekend. But, many have questioned whether the shortened training camps will jeopardize player safety.
Following the news of no positive tests, the six remaining Premier League teams returned to training in earnest over the weekend at their designated training grounds. Although clubs had agreed to shorten training camps to two weeks in order to restart the season on 19 September, neither the players nor the coaches were satisfied with the arrangements.
“Even when I played back in the day, we never had a preseason as short as two weeks,” Happy Valley head coach Pau Ka-yiu grumbled. “We’d always have at least a month to get ready. Muscles cannot possibly adapt so quickly to the high intensity of matches, so over the next two weeks, we’re not going to push our players too hard.”
Pau feared that the abbreviated arrangements would lead to a higher number of injuries and hoped that his players would not overexert themselves.
Southern head coach Zesh Rehman concurred with Pau, stating, “Two weeks is not a long time, but it’s out of our control. We can only focus on what’s in front of us and that’s to get ready to play.” He added that he would try to field a balanced lineup for the team and did not rule out playing in the restart.
Eastern keeper Yapp Hung-fai, who returned to training last Friday, admitted that he felt his personal fitness level had only started to improve after Monday’s training session. The Hong Kong international, however, accepted that this year’s circumstances have necessitated special arrangements.
“We‘ve got to have perspective,” Yapp said. “Right now, being able to return to training is a privilege. After three days of training, I feel that we’re slowly getting back on our feet. The club had given us itineraries for training whilst we were at home, but it doesn’t compare to training as a team.”
R&F centre back Sean Tse was less magnanimous with his comments, blasting the club’s allocation of training ground and the short turnaround.
“(Kowloon Bay Football Pitch) is a fantastic ground,” he sniped sarcastically, referring to the quality of the artificial surface, before turning his attention to the restart. “Our last match was a half year ago. It is unprofessional to ask the players go from not playing for six months, to training for two weeks and then playing six games in three weeks.
“When you look at other leagues around the world, Hong Kong’s restart is crazy. But this is what the HKFA have decided and we’ve just got to get on with it.”
R&F launches formal complaint over training ground allocation
Speaking of Kowloon Bay Football Pitch, R&F have sent a letter to the HKFA in protest of what they consider to be a sub-standard facility. R&F allege that the allocation procedures were not transparent and have asked the HKFA to explain why the club was designated to the venue
Kowloon Bay Football Pitch has been described by some as a “hazard” due to its hard artificial surface which has led to a number of injuries over the years.
“I had thought that we would be able to return to the Football Training Centre where we had been training before,” said R&F head coach, Yeung Ching-kwong. “A hard surface, like the one at Kowloon Bay, will undoubtedly put a toll on our players. We’ve got several players who’ve needed to wrap ice packs around their ankles after training.
“Obviously, we asked for a different training ground but (the HKFA’s) response was ‘no’. We’re at a disadvantage in many ways but we’ll just have to accept it and not let it affect our performances.”
The coach revealed that Monday’s session had been shortened to 60 minutes in order to alleviate the toll on the players.
Despite rumours that the Premier League leaders had requested to share Kitchee’s training ground, HKFA chairman Pui Kwan-kay dismissed the suggestions, stating that this would have required the consent of the Bluewaves. He revealed that the HKFA had sought the allocation of Po Tsui Park Soccer Field in Tseung Kwan O for R&F but were denied approval by the government. The chairman defended the allocation of Kowloon Bay Football Pitch as a last resort.
“I understand that some clubs may have felt that the arrangements were unfair but different people have different opinions on what constitutes fairness,” Pui said. “Happy Valley, where I am also the honorary chairman, trains regularly (at Kowloon Bay). I don’t think there’s anything unfair about that.
“We hope to solve any problems that arise as our clubs return to action but we can’t just do whatever we want. The government has many restrictions and requirements. Should we request any change in the plans, they would need some time to review it.
“It wasn’t easy to gain approval from the government to resume training, in the first place, because of the limit on gatherings. Although the venue doesn’t tick all the boxes, at least we’ve taken the first step towards the restart. I hope everyone can appreciate that we’ve done the best we could.”
Hong Kong adopts temporary five substitution rule
In May, the International Football Association Board, governing body for the rules of football, agreed to adopt FIFA’s proposal to temporarily increase the number of substitutions per match to five. In their explanation, the IAFB cited “the impact on player welfare of competitions being played in a condensed period and in different weather conditions.” However, FIFA allowed each competition’s organizer to decide whether to adopt the amendment, rather than to apply it universally.
On Monday, the HKFA informed Premier League clubs that the organization had approved the implementation of the rule for Hong Kong, giving head coaches greater leeway to rotate players once the restart is confirmed.
In order to reduce disruption to the flow of games, each team must make their five changes within three opportunities. If two teams make a substitution at the same time, both teams will be charged with an opportunity. Should matches require extra time, unused substitutions and opportunities will be carried over along with an additional opportunity.
At the discretion of each competition’s organizer, matchday squads may also be increased.
In July, the IAFB agreed to extend the temporary rule change for competitions which are scheduled to end by July 2021. Competitions are not obligated to adopt the rule, and as such, the HKFA would need to approve the continued usage of the rule for the 2020-21 season. Last week, English Premier League clubs notably voted for the second time to reject the use of five substitutes in their upcoming season.
“It will take some getting use to, but more opportunities to rotate players is a good thing,” Eastern head coach Lee Chi-kin said of the rule change. “After the restart is finished, next season is right around the corner so (five substitutions) is helpful for us as coaches in the short and long term because we can better manage the condition of our players.”
First fixtures revealed?
The HKFA has yet to reveal the schedule for the restart though parts of the schedule have been leaked.
Lee Man head coach Chan Hiu-ming told reporters that his club’s first fixture would be against bottom dwellers Happy Valley. It is believed that Southern will take on R&F and Kitchee will battle Eastern in the other two matches.