South China defender Andy Russell finds good in everything – even a defeat that ended Hong Kong’s World Cup qualification hopes. Russell made his Hong Kong debut in a 2-0 loss to Qatar in March.
“It’s very fortunate that my first game was against Qatar, who’ll be hosting the 2022 Fifa World Cup and is one of the best teams in Asia,” says Russell. “Because of the two draws against China and a slim possibility of qualifying from the group, there was real momentum within our team [before the Qatar match]. These things made the experience more enjoyable.”
Russell says he has had little trouble mixing with the Hong Kong players, many of whom come from different nationalities and cultures.
“Me and [Hong Kong right-back] Jack Sealy were about five years old when we got to know each other and became good friends, and I think that helped me settle in and feel comfortable,” he explains. “As a team, we eat together and mix together, no matter where we come from. Everyone’s working together to achieve the same goals.”
Having played five seasons for a semi-professional football club in Britain, Russell believes that experience has helped him build up his mental and physical strength.
“[Playing in Britain] was incredibly hard and it’s very different to playing in Hong Kong. So it was great, in terms of helping me to prepare for a long season,” he says.
“The training and the games in the UK cannot be compared to Hong Kong in terms of physical demand. Also, the key difference is the number of games you play in one season.
“In my last season in the UK I played about 50 games. But last year I only played around 20 matches – that’s almost every game – for South China. That’s the real difference.”
Russell is hoping that his team will put up a better performance in both Asian and domestic competitions this season. South China finished third in the Premier League and lost the final of the League Cup last season.
“This is my third season at South China, and it’s also the third season of the club chairman [Dr Wallace Chueng],” said Russell. “Dr Chueng has done a fantastic job, strengthening the team over the pre-season period. And now is the time to repay him for his investment and the faith he has shown in the players.
“The first task is to make progress in the AFC Cup, and then our domestic competitions like the FA Cup, League Cup, Senior Shield and the Hong Kong Premier League, where we should be looking to be champions.”
Russell says South China have got some very good players and they are determined to do well. “Midfielder Lo Kong-wai has returned to South China from Pegasus and the young players have got a really good attitude, the best I’ve seen for some time. This is what you want,” he says. “In the past, we missed someone up front to score goals. But now we have a new signing, striker Nikola Komazec from FC Dinamo Batumi. He’s been scoring a lot of goals in our pre-season games. If that continues, he’ll be a huge asset for South China.”
Instead of better coaches and training, Russell believes a tough mentality and hard work produce good players.
“Of course you need the environment and the coaches,” said Russell, who is also an under-16 coach at Hong Kong Football Club. “But the mentality is very important. Players have to understand the importance of hard work and commitment.
“If anyone has any questions or wants advice, just find me on Facebook.”
The 28-year-old also urges teenagers dreaming of becoming professional football players to follow their passion.
“There are many opportunities for young players, for example, teams like Kitchee are promoting players through their youth system. There are also opportunities to get experience in other leagues in Asia,” he says.