Famed Hong Kong men’s representative team coach Kim Pan-gon has resigned to take up a post in his home country of South Korea.
The Korean Football Association (KFA) website announced Tuesday that the 48-year-old is set to become the chief of the South Korean national team’s supervisory committee.
The surprise move comes ahead of Hong Kong’s crucial AFC Asian Cup qualifying match in March, to be played in Pyongyang against North Korea.
“Kim’s departure is a pity because he has helped the Hong Kong team achieve many good results,” Hong Kong team captain Yapp Hung-fai told RTHK on Tuesday.
“Most importantly, he has changed the team’s attitude. We used to think that not losing by a large margin is already a victory, but he taught us that no matter how strong or weak our opponents are, we must always strive to win.”
Kim still had half a year left on his contract, and – earlier this year – suggested that he wanted to stay on.
A veteran of Hong Kong’s professional football scene, Kim first came to the city in 2000 to play for Instant-Dict Football Club, before beginning his coaching career with Rangers two years later.
Returning to Hong Kong in 2008 after a stint in Busan, South Korea, he became coach of well-known local team South China.
After leading the Hong Kong Olympic football team to a gold medal in the East Asian Games by beating Japan in 2009, Kim famously told reporters that he wanted to “die for Hong Kong” when he coached the team.
He then led the Hong Kong men’s team to a series of markedly improved results in recent years amid renewed societal interest in local football – most famously holding China to two 0:0 draws in September and November 2015 in the World Cup Qualifiers.
“Although Kim didn’t have an outstanding career as a player, he has proven his ability as a coach and administrator,” news agency Yonhap reported the KFA as saying.
“His appointment is meaningful because it shows those who didn’t play for the national team can also take important roles if they are talented.”