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Hong Kong footballer in UK on BN(O) visa feels 'tortured' by rules preventing him from playing for Manchester United

Hong Kong footballer in UK on BN(O) visa feels 'tortured' by rules preventing him from playing for Manchester United

“It was painful for me, I had these expectations, and then I fell down. It was really frustrating and left me confused,” Tsang said. I had waited months to play, and this was another blow. I didn't know what to do next.”

The 20-year-old defender graduated from the youth system of Premier League champions Kitchee. Photo: Keiichi

Tsang later learned that he needed an International Sports Visa (ISV), because the governing body considered United's part-time club a professional club. ISVs are awarded to “internationally recognized” “elite qualified athletes or coaches.”

The complex application process requires the individual's employer to act as a “sponsor.” Decision-makers at FC United, which plays in the seventh tier of English football, the Northern Premier League (NPL), are deliberating over whether to invest an initial sum of around £775 (HK$7,670), and a significant amount of time, in an exercise with… No guarantee of successful conclusion.

“I don’t know what will happen or what the club will do,” Tsang said. “It is difficult to obtain a visa.” I feel a little helpless.

He added: “I have to wait until the United club board decides whether they will go through this complex process.”

Tsang graduated from the Kitchee Academy and made a number of appearances for the local champions before moving to another team in the Hong Kong Premier League HKU23 ahead of the Asian Games last September.

By then, he had decided to study physiotherapy at the University of Salford, considering that “the salary and benefits were insufficient to continue playing”. [in Hong Kong]He previously told the newspaper he hoped the city's football ecosystem would attract more resources and sustain his career.

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Tsang remains on the radar of Hong Kong coach Jorn Andersen, who praised his character and selected him for the recent matches in the Guangdong-Hong Kong Cup, for which Tsang returned from the UK. Tsang, who maintains his ambition to pursue his football career full-time, took the opportunity to consult Andersen about his plight.

“He wants me to pursue a higher level in football. He thinks the National Football League is too low for me at my age,” Tsang said. But I'm not fixed here, no one really knows who I am. To move to a higher league, you need exposure. I have two more years of study, and I am committed to staying in the UK.

“If United decides not to apply for the licence, I will look for another club. I will focus on the NPL and… [sixth-tier] National League North, but my priority is to be able to play.

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This is destined to be a lost season, international football aside, but there are no regrets about the move to England. Tsang has adapted to “rain, wind and extreme cold.” However, he admitted that he left behind the difficult balancing act of studying football in Hong Kong with a heavy heart.

“It's a tough learning environment in Hong Kong,” he said. “I was nervous, I didn't really sleep, and I did poorly in football and in my studies.”

Andersen says the onus is on clubs to allow study and playing to coincide, but Tsang knows “other players in the Hong Kong Premier League whose football careers have been bottlenecked”. They have to move beyond training to follow an academic path, and local football wages are not dissuading them.

Hong Kong coach Jorn Andersen is disappointed when Tsang leaves the city for England. Photo: Reuters

“I'm a little disappointed [Tsang left Hong Kong] “Because he has talent. He can compete at a high level. It's frustrating for him and for Hong Kong,” Andersen said.

At the moment, Tsang is training with FC United, trying to maintain his fitness in case Andersen needs him, and everything has been crossed to find a solution.

“The club will inform me about the sponsorship soon. It is out of my control,” Tsang said.