By Christopher KL Lau
Juan Belencoso was one of the three nominees of the Asian Football Association Foreign Player of the Year. In November, the award went to Ricardo Goulart Pereira of China’s Guangzhou Evergrande.
Kitchee’s Juan Belencoso has been a mainstay of Hong Kong football for several years now and has established himself, and endured, as a fan favourite due to this hard-working nature and silky skills. His friendly demeanour often gives way to his lethal and clinical goal scoring skills as he is a regular scorer for Kitchee in the the domestic game and fired them to the domestic treble last season including two goals in the FA Cup final against Eastern. In terms of continental football, in the AFC Cup 2014, his eleven goals helped propel Kitchee to the semi-final stage where they eventually succumbed. In this exclusive interview with Christopher KL Lau, Belencoso kindly took the time to have an in-depth discussion about life in the city and, of course, Hong Kong football.
Who has been your toughest opponent in Hong Kong?
I have respect for all the players in Hong Kong. The most difficult time for me is when I am upfront and there is a strong centre back like Festus. It is really hard to play against him and now he is also in the Hong Kong team. In my own team, there is Fernando Recio who can be a very tough opponent.
Kitchee have some very loyal supporters. How close is your relationship with them?
The relationship with them is indeed very close. Every match they come and support us and that’s great for us players. Sometimes, there are not so many people, but even if it’s just twenty or thirty of them, it always makes a difference. However, most of the time we actually have have many fans coming to the stadium and when we finish the match, we always thank them for supporting us. Sometimes they come to the Kitchee Centre to see the training as well.
You have now been in Hong Kong for a few years. Does this feel like home to you? Would you like to play for Hong Kong?
During my time in Spain, I stayed in many many cities. They were okay, but life in Hong Kong is just great, as there are so many options. You can go to lunches and dinners easily and it is also family friendly, so sometimes I go to Hong Kong Park or Ocean Park with my son, and Disneyland is also nearby. The people of Hong Kong are very friendly and I have never had any problems. I try to enjoy everyday and for me, my wife and my son our experience here has been great.
As the Hong Kong league is so small, you play the same teams all the time. Does this get repetitive to you?
Yeah. It can be difficult, because there are only nine teams. I don’t really understand this, because there are actually so many many teams in Hong Kong. I think the First Division has three or four teams who have played in the top tier before. Sometimes we may play five matches against Wong Tai Sin and then four matches against Eastern, but you are only really thinking about it match by match and you just focus on the important thing, which is winning as this builds confidence. So yes, we do play against the same teams often, but it is okay for us. When I first arrived in Hong Kong, I did notice I was playing against the same players; I used to think “I played against you” and “I played against you”. But I understand it is though for Hong Kong teams to have too many matches, especially without the money.
How have the team adapted to the transition from coach Jose Molina to Abraham Garcia? How are they different or similar?
Yes, Jose Molina was different. Of course, they are two different people and they both see football in another way. They also have different questions when you speak to them. Jose Molina liked to play from the back and sometimes seek the long ball. For now, we only have been with Abraham Garcia for two months, but we feel confident in the team as we have been winning our matches. Usually, we still play it out from the back, using the goal keeper and the centre-backs, so there are still similarities with Molina. However, Abraham Garcia wants more passes from us, more movement. He is also different when it comes to set pieces, but both coaches have been great for Hong Kong football. Jose Molina won three cups and Abraham Garcia also has the possibility to do so. Of course he wants to win the league as well, because this is always the most important thing for Kitchee!
Christopher KL Lau is a Photographer, Editor and Marketing Consultant for Offside.hk