The Chinese Super League (CSL) has become a popular destinations for footballers over the past few years, with Demba Ba, Ramires and Jackson Martinez among those who have left Europe to ply their trade in the Far East.
Hong Kong, meanwhile, sits just a stone’s throw away and while has its own Premier League and has clubs in Asia’s elite AFC Cup competition, it still doesn’t boast anywhere near the talent that the CSL has in its ranks.
For South China manager Ricardo Rambo, who is a well-respected figure in the Hong Kong footballing community, this poses a significant problem as he feels that Hong Kong are falling too far behind their neighbours.
Rambo feels that Hong Kong need to improve their facilities and attract more sponsors if they are to close the gap to China.
Sponsorship would come in handy for teams like Eastern SC, who won the 2015/16 Hong Kong Premier League but have been forced to pull out of all AFC events due to the club being cash-strapped after the owner Lai Tung Kwong withdrew his financial support.
“Yes, definitely. We have to be honest I think with the pitches, the environment and condition for every Hong Kong club and the sponsorship and currently, China are doing really well in these respects and we have to catch a little bit of this to make Hong Kong (football) better,” Rambo told Wild East Football.
“We have the Premier League now and also have some good teams to bring to the Asian competitions and if we have the right sponsorship, commitment and professionalism then the gap can be lessened.”
Having played in Hong Kong and gained a feel for what the game has to offer in ‘Asia’s World City’, Rambo admitted that the government was a lot more committed to helping the sport grow in the past than they are now.
“Years ago, I think the commitment towards Hong Kong football (from all areas) was much more and even though we have moved onto the Hong Kong Premier League era, we still need more enthusiasm from like the Hong Kong government to help with the development of youth players and it seems the support is much worse than before,” he said.
He added: “In the past, we (Hong Kong league) always had new players coming (to Hong Kong) and five or six teams who were competitive and now we have two or three teams (who are competitive) and we have to improve in this area and this starts from the youth upwards.”
South China and Kitchee are the two teams that regularly represent Hong Kong in the AFC Cup, but have yet to break into the AFC Champions League. With Hong Kong clubs capable of competing at high standards, Rambo doesn’t see any reason why a local team wouldn’t fare well in the CSL in the future. Before that happens though, Rambo conceded that a few changes have to be made.
“Yes, they can but to be competitive to play against them (China based teams), a big change is needed here in Hong Kong, including the mentality of the players,” he said. “But if you compete with them (in the China leagues) then salaries will be better and players will be able to raise their game and it would be a good change for the local Hong Kong players and for the community in Hong Kong to watch Chinese super league players up close.”