The Resources Capital head coach talks about his side’s chances of joining the Premier League and how promotion or no promotion will affect his planning for next season.
Many heads were turned last August when Resources Capital held their season opening media event. Though many clubs in Hong Kong lack the ambition or the resources to reach the top flight, the same cannot be said of Resources Capital.
The club – which were known as Tai Chung until 2016 – announced that day that ownership had committed to signing their squad to full time, professional contracts – a rarity in the lower divisions where most clubs operate as semi-professional or amateur outfits. As if that were not ambitious enough, Resources Capital declared that their budget for the 2019-20 season would be $6 million, a figure unheard of in the lower divisions. It is an investment which trumps Rangers’ budget in the Premier League this season and is level with Hoi King’s budget in the 2018-19 season.
However, with lavish spending also came a clear expectation from management: to go up to the Premier League next season as First Division champions.
At the halfway point of the season, everything appeared to be going as planned. The Pink Ribbons were five points clear of King Fung for top spot in the table and began to relax their all-local policy. The club had added Spanish coach Joan Esteva to the staff over the summer and signed two foreigners in winger Felipe Sá and central midfielder Carles Tena to boost the club’s push for promotion.
Then, disaster struck.
The first confirmed coronavirus case in Hong Kong was announced on 22 January, leading to the cancellation of the Lunar New Year Cup the following evening. Not long after, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department announced the closure of its facilities, a decision which has remained in place to this day. As a result, no lower division matches have been played since the first case was confirmed.
With the prospects of reopened venues growing dimmer by the week, the Hong Kong Football Association announced on 16 April that the remainder of the lower divisions seasons would be cancelled and that promotion and relegation would be suspended.
All of this had been difficult to digest for Resources Capital head coach, Ho Shun-yin, whose club were in prime position to win their maiden First Division title. Instead, Resources Capital will apply for promotion without having their desired silverware next to their name.
But in subsequent interviews since last Thursday’s announcement though, Ho has seemingly undergone the Five Stages of Grief. Although initially furious with the HKFA’s decision to end the season, he now sees this as fuel for motivation. Despite having been told that his club cannot join the Premier League next season unless one of the current clubs drop out, he accepts that this decision is out of his hands.
Here’s more of what he had to say.
On the cancellation of the season…
“It’s hard to get twenty odd people to row in the same direction like we did. In the first half, we were able to gain top spot in the table using only local players.
“But right now, our owners are quite distraught because they’d invested millions into the club and got nothing from it. No title, no nothing!”
On breaking the news to his players…
“If the ten Premier League clubs want to stay (in the top flight) next season, there’s nothing we can do. Of course, when the players heard this they were very upset. It’s like if you got really good grades and you wanted to attend university, but they said ‘no, we can only let you in if we have room.’
“Why won’t the HKFA allow 11 teams to compete in the Premier League next season? Why can’t they allow teams to promote this year and only suspend relegation?
“In the early days of the Premier League, there was talk at the HKFA about eventually expanding to 12 teams. What was wrong with that?
“If we have to wait from someone to drop out, the feeling is rather bleak.”
On his club’s application for promotion…
“If we go up without having won the title – and our club has relatively little history as it is – people will question why we were granted promotion. In particular, our two co-owners will feel a bit embarrassed, which is why we’ve always insisted that we should win a First Division title before we go up.
“The HKFA have only met with the Premier League clubs. They haven’t consulted any of us lower division clubs. So undoubtedly, they care more about the big clubs.
“We at Resources Capital want people to be aware that there’s more to Hong Kong football than just the Premier League. The HKFA needs to encourage more owners to invest in amateur football, to provide development opportunities for young players and through that development, rise to the Premier League.”
On how the promotion situation affects his plans for next season…
“Right now, we’re preparing as if we’ll be in the Premier League next season. We’ve applied for a Premier League license but if it doesn’t work out, we’ll be back in the First Division. It’s a fluid situation. I don’t know as of this moment whether we’ll be in the Premier League or not.
“The pandemic is still going on so it’s going to be difficult to find sponsorship. Because of this, even if we do get promoted, I can’t see there being a lot of changes (to the squad).
“I told the players that it’s alright to feel upset and hopeless because we were one step away from winning silverware. Now use that motivate you.
“I hope the HKFA will come out and announce in black and white terms, as soon as possible, what their plan is for next season (regarding which teams will participate in which leagues) so that they don’t create more uncertainty and scare off possible investors.”
On the status of his players next season…
“Next season’s start will be likely be postponed until November, but all of our player contracts end in June. This means that if we have to stay in the First Division, the players will be going several months without a contract. Given the current economy, going several months without pay will be difficult for the players so I have to admit that I’m worried for them.
“But if we have to stay in the First Division, I worry that there will be a lot of changes to the squad.
“As for (Esteva, Sá and Tena), we are confident that we can retain them for next season. The club has arranged for them to remain in Hong Kong for the time being because of the situation in Spain.”
On the Pink Ribbons’ chances of joining the top flight next season…
“We believe that in the end, we will go up. I hope that we will achieve our dream of playing in the Premier League and give our young squad an even bigger stage to grow.”
According to reports, several senior members of Resources Capital’s management team will meet the HKFA in the near future. It is hoped that the meeting will facilitate communication between the two sides and allow the HKFA to better understand the club’s desire to join the Premier League.
Until then, Ho can only wait.