Hong Kong coach an admirer of Singapore's youth development
There have been calls from several quarters to abolish the Garena Young Lions and even the National Football Academy (NFA) - both institutions of youth development in local football.
The Young Lions are effectively the national Under-22 side who play in the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League, while the NFA is the breeding ground for younger talents.
But, Hong Kong coach Kim Pan Gon is an admirer.
Speaking to The New Paper ahead of a friendly match against Singapore tonight, he said he is jealous of Singapore's ability to keep their national talents together on a consistent basis.
He said: "I'm very envious that from a young age, you can keep your elite players together, to grow together.
"If you don't have a strong, competitive league, this is a good way to control development and education."
Hong Kong football has improved in recent years. Ranked 169th in the Fifa standings in 2011, they are now 146th.
Singapore have gone the other direction - from 145th in 2011 to 171st.
South Korean Kim said Hong Kong's rise was a result of increased government support.
The government-sponsored Project Phoenix was a five-year plan launched in 2011 to revive football, with a total of HK$54 million (S$9.3m) spent.
The government has also embarked on another project named "Aiming high together", expected to cost up to HK$25 million annually, until 2020.
Hong Kong will also get a dedicated Football Training Centre by early next year.
"The government has supported with a lot of money, and that has helped football," said Kim, who said that the government help has gone hand-in-hand with local clubs also aiming higher with the assistance of the Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA).
"Some clubs have tried to achieve the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) standards for club licencing, and clubs also try to pay good money to bring in good foreign players and treat them well. They become citizens and play for the national team. That's another reason we've become stronger."
The Hong Kong squad list suggests that they have at least 10 foreign-born players.
The Singapore situation is distinctly different.
The national team have no naturalised citizens, and the creation of a National Training Centre has been in the pipeline for years now.
With the Tote Board poised to cut funding for the S.League by half, there is a possibility that the S.League will shut down after this season as a revamp is being worked out.
Due to their improvement, Hong Kong clubs have gained direct entry into the AFC Champions League from this season.
"The Hong Kong mentality is strong, we are competitive and we learn and adapt quickly," Kim said.
"But we are still not good enough, we must do more... and I hope we can do what Singapore does with your elite young players."