Zesh Rehman: “The Majority of Hong Kong clubs including Southern have had to make huge budget cuts in order to survive”

These are unprecedented times and global football has been severely impacted. Hong Kong’s professional scene has always struggled and recent times have probably been the most testing ever. Southern’s coach, Zesh Rehman, took the time to discuss the past season and how the Aberdeen side have adapted to ride out the current storm with an eye for a brighter future.

It has been a tough time for everyone, how have HK football clubs adapted during these times to remain sustainable and to ensure the safety of players, staff and fans?

“The majority of Hong Kong clubs including Southern have had to make huge budget cuts in order to survive as the pandemic has really affected the whole world of football. Clubs have had to lower their salaries and expectations in comparison to previous seasons due to financial restrictions which is understandable. The players and staff have been tested on a regular basis and all government health guidelines have been followed carefully to ensure everyone has remained safe and healthy.” 

There is a belief that all global football teams have an unlimited source of wealth. How is the actual reality and how have Southern adapted financially during these times?

“We are grateful and very much appreciate the fact Kwoon Chung have continued to sponsor the club. They are a fantastic sponsor who really care about all of the players and staff. The reality facing clubs globally is a serious one, Southern is no different. We have had to recruit players who can fit into the budget and not spend as much as previous seasons but that’s now the new normal for most clubs. There are lots of out-of-contract players available so the recruitment process can be a little slower because there is a larger pool of players to choose from. In times gone by Southern have been fairly high spenders but unfortunately, the last five years were a huge disappointment as no trophies were won in that time which is tough to take because it could be argued we had the squad capable of winning at least one trophy. Kitchee have been a very good model club for all in HK because they are producing their own talent, something other clubs can learn from.”

Football teams are more than the sum of their players and results. Football is using more analytics and more business-orientated. Can the “Money ball” concepts ever be applied to Hong Kong and Asian football?

“I think it would be great in the future to adapt this process! Why not? Football is a global game and we can always learn from what other countries are doing. Analytics are a major part of the game now and can be used to give excellent feedback to players and owners.” 

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Player recruitment is also changing. What should teams look for in players in terms of personality and behaviour?

“Clubs need to do their homework on the type of characters they recruit. It is a good idea to find out as much as possible about the players off the pitch behaviour, circle of friends, family and motivations in terms of wants and needs from the game. Sometimes mistakes can happen with players who are signed, there is always an element of risk but the more homework the clubs do than the less the risk.” 

Overall, have Southern had a successful season?

“Overall to finish 5th, integrate young players such as Paco and Xavi, operate on a very small budget with the youngest coaching team in Hong Kong combined with me being the youngest head coach then it can be considered a respectful season and relatively successful. There is always room for improvement and with the experience, I am sure I will grow into the role next season.  I have had time to self-reflect and note down all the lessons learned from the previous season. The bosses and management deserve a mention for trusting and respecting me to do the job and supporting me all the way even in some difficult moments. We hope to improve next season with some new faces in the building to give us some more experience in all departments of the pitch.”

Does old-school football coaching and management work anymore for anyone?

“I don’t think the old school way of shouting and screaming at players to perform works anymore. The modern game is about developing individual players to improve regardless of their age and to inspire them and fill them with confidence as opposed to making them play under fear by being too controlling. For example, James Ha, Stefan Perera, Paco, Shu and Kota are excellent examples of players who have continued to develop and improve thanks to specific personal development plans and have benefited from being free to express themselves on the pitch. Sometimes players need to be told in a firmer way if they are not performing but it can not be all the time because mutual respect would be lost. I believe man management and effective communication are a vital part of the Head Coach role. You have to care about each player personally and understand them as people first and foremost.

Finally, it is great to have Beto on the coaching team, he is a very passionate coach in the making who is familiar with Hong Kong. The club is becoming very good at giving young coaches an opportunity to get on the first steps of the coaching ladder and I believe this approach can help create a sustainable future.”

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