More details about the U23’s squad, management and plans were revealed to the public at the team’s inaugural press conference on Thursday. The announcement was marred by Hong Kong international Sandro’s allegations that he was excluded from joining the team due to racism.
At an extraordinary board meeting last week, the Hong Kong Football Association’s board approved the creation of a U23 team to compete in the upcoming season’s Premier League. On Thursday morning, the team held its introductory press conference at the HKFA’s headquarters and met members of the media for the first time.
Former Hong Kong international Cheung Kin-fung, who is also the head coach of the Hong Kong U18 and U23 team, will be tasked with leading the side. The coach described he had difficulties in recruiting players so close to the start of the season but later revealed that around 20 players had been confirmed for the squad. later
Among the players confirmed, more than ten players are under the age of 23 – of whom seven were called up to attend the current Hong Kong U23 training camp. Additionally, Cheung said that he had chosen five overaged players after consulting with Kenneth Kwok, who ran the PFAHK’s August training sessions for free agents. Due to time constraints in the formation of the squad, the head coach stated that most of the overage players would be defenders.
“The team will be weak, but this is a problem that the players will have to confront,” Cheung said. “Playing competitive matches is the best way to learn. I don’t mind if players make mistakes, but they must prove that they’ve improved as a result of those mistakes.”
Although the head coach admitted that the team lacks depth at certain positions, he stated that the team would not recruit any foreigners. He further stated that his goals for the season were to finish out of the bottom place in the table and for results to improve at the business end of the season.
HKFA CEO Joe Tam revealed that 8-9 players on the squad would be brought in on loan from fellow Premier League clubs though he did not reveal their identities.
It is believed that, in addition to Eastern’s Wong Wai, who was unveiled as one of the club’s overaged players on Thursday, former Pegasus players Law Hiu-chung, Matthew Chan Ching-him and Bobby Kwok Tsz-kaai, and former Happy Valley player Andy Wong Ho-yin will round out the team’s over-23 quota. Of the U23 players, former Pegasus players Ho Ka-chi and Ng Man-hei, former Valley player Lai Pui-kei, Yuen Sai-kit and Marco Cheung, and current Resources Capital players Pong Cheuk-hei and Ma Man-ching are rumoured to be joining.
Team to spend $5-6 million per season
At Thursday’s press conference, HKFA vice-chairman Eric Fok, son of HKFA president Timothy Fok, announced that he would personally fund and oversee the team. He stated that the team’s budget shall be $5-6 million per season, which would amount to an eight-digit figure after three seasons.
“The establishment of the U23 team will strengthen the development of Hong Kong’s young players, so that they can have more match experience and improve their technical abilities,” he said.
The team, which is in the process of applying for non-voting membership within the HKFA, will be operated by an independent company, separate from the HKFA.
Wong Wai: Decision to join the team was made quickly
Three players were unveiled as members of the U23 team on Thursday. Although Hong Kong U23 goalkeeper Tse Ka-wing and former Happy Valley academy product Tang In-chim were announced as players, neither player turned as many heads as Wong Wai, who will be joining the club on loan from Eastern.
The attacking midfielder said that the decision to join the team was made “in a day” and hoped to impart his own experience onto the squad’s younger players.
“I felt that my development had become stagnant over the past two seasons at Eastern, so I’ve quickly made this decision after speaking with (Cheung) about the team’s philosophy,” he said of the move. “But my role will not just be about leading the team. The squad has a lot of young players so it will be difficult for us. I experienced the same thing when I played for Sham Shui Po.
“I want to use my own experience to show the younger players that they cannot become disheartened because of defeats. In turn, I also hope to learn something from them as well.
As for whether he felt that his place in the Hong Kong team would be threatened by dropping down to a weaker team, Wong denied that this would be the case.
“The coaches are aware of each players’ strengths,” he continued. “The selections will be not come entirely from big clubs. There are many examples in foreign countries where players from mid-table or bottom clubs are chosen.”
As for Tse, who participated in the PFAHK’s sessions, the keeper believed that the upcoming season would be an opportunity for him to cement his place in the Hong Kong U23’s. He stated that the establishment of a U23 team will help players better prepare for the U23 Asian Cup qualifiers in October.
“This is an important year, and I will cherish it,” he said. “I’m no longer a beginner and I will strive to grow and mature in my mentality.”
Sandro claims racism led to exclusion from U23’s
Hong Kong international Sandro, who remains out of contract following his departure from Eastern, hit out at the HKFA late Thursday afternoon via his personal Instagram page. Despite the U23’s quota of five overaged players, Sandro was not signed as a member of the squad.
“These days I heard that I couldn’t go to the U23 team (team that was supposedly created to help unemployed players, but most of the players are employed players, borrowed from another team) because only local players would be chosen,” his post began. “And so, I asked myself: Am I not a local player? After 13 years…in the local league and 6 years in the national team, I don’t qualify to be a ‘local’ player.”
Where to begin?
Sandro lashes out at the HKFA after he was supposedly told that naturalized players, such as himself, wouldn't be recruited for the new U23 team. He questions why anyone would want to naturalize in the future and hits out at alleged racism. #hkpl #HKfootball pic.twitter.com/h026z42XgP
— Lester Chan (@enterchanman) September 2, 2021
The 34-year-old striker, who has been capped 29 times for Hong Kong, went on to describe “discrimination” within the Hong Kong team where players would be treated differently based on whether they were born in Hong Kong. He went on to question why any foreign player would want to renounce their former nationalities in order to represent Hong Kong in the future under such circumstances.
“All these years in Hong Kong, I lived with all discrimination and prejudice simply because I was black. Have you ever tried asking a local black Hong Kong player if he suffers or has suffered racism here?” he asked. “These are prohibited questions in Hong Kong football. No one asks anymore, so maybe (that is why) you’ve never seen a black player win a championship best player trophy.”
Sandro told Offside’s Chris Lau last month that he hoped “…using local players during these times will decrease the percentage of unemployed players. Foreign help is important for a team to achieve goals but given the current situation in football, one must first use local players and not imported foreign aid.”
However, the striker now finds himself on the outside looking in with merely two weeks to go until the season kicks off on 18 September.