The Perennial Club V Country debate
There has been quite a lot of press coverage since I came to Hong Kong about the Club V Country issue. This doesn’t surprise me because I am sure it is a universal issue, occurring in virtually every country during every football season.
From an objective perspective it is easy to see and understand the two sides of the story. Of course Clubs are worried about releasing players for extra training or for additional matches whether they be friendlies or competitive. This is only natural; at the end of the day it is the Club that pays the wages and the Club that wants to have all of its players fit and available for its own training and for important league and cup competitions. We can all understand that. Equally those involved in the National Teams want maximum access to players to hone their skills, work on team tactics, establish a rapport and prepare them for important and high profile matches. After all, National Team Managers and Coaches are judged on their results to the extent that their jobs and reputations are on the line. And so the two positions can be polarized and seemingly mutually exclusive. But like any partnership or marriage there is a symbiotic relationship. When the two parties are getting on well, both can achieve more than they could on their own.
Project Phoenix is attempting to do just that; improving the performance of the representative teams whilst simultaneously strengthening the 1st Division. So we are trying to give Coach KIM and his team additional access to Club players for training whilst also making sure that players do not get fatigued and run the risk of injury. It is a difficult balance to achieve. In actual fact and contrary to recent media reports, this is working quite well and the Clubs are doing what they can to be understanding, and to make players available and KIM and his team appreciate the needs of the Clubs. Of course there are occasions when it is less easy to reconcile the differences, like for example when preparation for an away international match clashes with a Club fixture list involving both league and cup competitions. We don’t live in a perfect world.
In other countries it is often possible to postpone Club matches and rearrange them for a later date but in Hong Kong this is very difficult. Clubs don’t own their own grounds and pitches are always heavily booked by other people. Furthermore many grounds are not equipped with floodlights and so midweek games are out of the question. We have a fantastic and totally professional Competitions Department at the HKFA. They move heaven and earth to accommodate people’s needs but sometimes it is literally impossible to keep all of the people happy all of the time.
And so these factors exacerbate what is a perennial problem which is why all people involved in football in Hong Kong; players, coaches, owners, fans, media etc must be mutually understanding and continue to look for ways to work together. It seems to me that in Hong Kong we have a tendency to beat each other up about an issue (I mean metaphorically rather than literally) when actually we should be congratulating ourselves that things work as well as they do, often in difficult circumstances.