Hong Kong’s Chan Yuen-ting is to smash another hole through soccer’s glass ceiling when she makes history in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League tonight — but it could not be a tougher debut for the trailblazing female coach.
Chan, nicknamed “Beef Ball” and just 28 years old, is to etch her name in the record books as the first woman worldwide to lead a professional men’s team into continental competition, at the helm of Hong Kong’s Eastern.
The game is not far from Hong Kong, but it is against Guangzhou Evergrande, the mega-rich “Manchester United of Asia” who have two AFC Champions League titles and six straight domestic trophies to their name.
However, for Chan, who last year became the first female coach to win a top-flight men’s league, it will be an honor to face Evergrande and their Soccer World Cup-winning manager, Brazil’s Luiz Felipe Scolari.
“I never imagined or expected this could happen, but now we’re going to play against him, so I feel excited and I’m looking forward to meeting him,” she told the AFC Web site. “All I need to do is focus on our team and concentrate on the work that we are doing.”
Chan’s groundbreaking Hong Kong title last year with Eastern made headlines around the globe and earned her the AFC’s coach of the year award and a place in a BBC list of the world’s 100 most influential women.
Eastern then became Hong Kong’s first club to be handed an automatic berth in the AFC Champions League group stage, thanks to the recent performances of the territory’s teams in AFC competitions.
“We need to focus on defense, and especially our discipline and attitude during the match,” Chan said. “At this moment I don’t want to create extra pressure for myself and my players, so we just want to do our best and try to go as far as we can.”
Chan, whose nickname “Beef Ball” refers to her competitive spirit and is often chanted by Eastern’s fans, first caught the soccer bug when she was 13 and had a crush on David Beckham.
She followed Manchester United games on TV and her passion eventually led her into coaching, despite opposition from her parents.
“On the pitch I forget my gender as a woman. I just hope to show my abilities,” Chan told reporters last year. “I think no matter your age or your gender, what you need is hard work.”
Hong Kong Football Association chief executive Mark Sutcliffe said Chan had become a shining light for women involved in sport across the world.
“We are proud that Hong Kong has provided an opportunity for a female coach to operate at the highest level,” Sutcliffe told reporters.
“I am sure she will act as an inspiration for women in sport across the world,” he said, but added: “Let’s not kid ourselves — it’s going to be very, very tough.”
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