Spanish footballers find work in Hong Kong

Hong Kong Southern District player Lander Panera, center, stands with fellow Spanish teammates Diego Folgar Toimil and Diego Gómez Heredia.

Story highlights

  • Football players from hard-hit Spain are finding new careers in Hong Kong
  • Player: "I've come to Hong Kong because opportunities in my country aren't very promising"
  • Spanish players and coaches brought in to develop the former British colony's talent
  • Hong Kong football is ranked is ranked 154th in the world and 25th in the region

As Spain's economy finds new lows, there is one clear winner in the eurozone crisis: Hong Kong football.

The former British colony has had a long tradition with the sport but is ranked 154th in the world, according to FIFA. In the region, the territory ranks 25th, well below leaders Japan and Australia.

Despite the city's low ranking, there are some in Hong Kong with a long-term strategy to import players and know-how from the world's best: embattled football-superpower Spain.

"I've decided to come to Hong Kong because opportunities in my country aren't very promising," former Spanish La Liga player Lander Panera told CNN.

Panera, 30, was concerned about the economy in his home country and chose this year to settle in a place where growth is robust.

Spain's olive oil crisis
Spain's olive oil crisis

    JUST WATCHED

    Spain's olive oil crisis

MUST WATCH

Spain's olive oil crisis 02:45
Selling sperm, eggs to survive
Selling sperm, eggs to survive

    JUST WATCHED

    Selling sperm, eggs to survive

MUST WATCH

Selling sperm, eggs to survive 02:26
Family struggles to keep home in Madrid
Family struggles to keep home in Madrid

    JUST WATCHED

    Family struggles to keep home in Madrid

MUST WATCH

Family struggles to keep home in Madrid 02:31

He recently secured a contract with the local team Southern District, where he shares the playing field with fellow countrymen like Diego Gómez Heredia and Diego Folgar Toimil.

Hong Kong's embrace of Spanish footballers doesn't end there.

Ken Ng, head of Hong Kong Kitchee, one of the top local teams, has been working with former Spanish athletes for years to develop local players.

Recently, the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charity Trust donated US$5.7 million to Kitchee to start a football talent development center. The project aims to make stars out of young Hongkongers with potential.

"It's all about youth development, youth training, and hopefully in six, or eight, or 10 years time we'll have a much better group of youngsters coming through our program, and that will help Hong Kong be one of the strongest teams in Asia," Ng told CNN. "[We] will give Japan a run for their money."

Ng brought two Spanish veterans to the Far East to help: Josep Gombau, a veteran of Barcelona youth football education and current Kitchee head coach, and retired La Liga player Roberto "Chino" Losada, also a former Kitchee player.

The project includes international exposure for young players, not only with foreign coaches but also with extensive travel.

"We will give them a view of the world," Ng told CNN, "every year we will take them to Spain." There, the players will compete in events like the Mediterranean International Cup, a top juvenile international tournament held in Catalonia. The Kitchee's team competed there last March.

"It's all about youth development, youth training," Ng said.

In the meantime, Spanish players like Panera are considering Hong Kong as a permanent home.

"If things don't improve in my country, in Europe, I wouldn't have a problem [staying in Hong Kong]," Panera told CNN.

        Europe's financial crisis

      • German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks with Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble during a session at the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) on June 25, 2013 in Berlin.

        Schaeuble: 'Don't see' bailouts

        German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble says the eurozone's problems are not solved, but "we are in a much better shape than we used to be some years ago."
      • IBIZA, SPAIN - AUGUST 21:  A man dives into the sea in Cala Salada beach on August 21, 2013 in Ibiza, Spain. The small island of Ibiza lies within the Balearics islands, off the coast of Spain. For many years Ibiza has had a reputation as a party destination. Each year thousands of young people gather to enjoy not only the hot weather and the beaches but also the array of clubs with international DJ's playing to vast audiences. Ibiza has also gained a reputation for drugs and concerns are now growing that the taking and trafficking of drugs is spiralling out of control.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

        Spain keeps partying

        Summer could not have come soon enough for Lloret de Mar, a tourist resort north of Barcelona. Despite the country's troubles, it's partying.
      • The Euro logo is seen in front of the European Central bank ECB prior to the press conference following the meeting of the Governing Council in Frankfurt/Main, Germany, on April 4, 2013.

        OECD: Slow recovery for Europe

        The global recovery has two speeds: That of the stimulus-fed U.S. and that of the austerity-starved eurozone, according to a new report.
      • The flags of the countries which make up the European Union, outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

        Europe's new threat: Slow decay

        The "rich man's club" of Europe faces economic decay as it struggles to absorb Europe's "poor people", according to economic experts.
      • Packed beaches and Brit pubs? Not necessarily. Here's what drew travelers to one of Spain's most beautiful regions in the first place

        Spain aims for big tourist summer

        Spain's economic crisis is in its sixth straight year yet tourism, worth 11% of GDP, is holding its own, one of the few bright spots on a bleak horizon.
      • Photographer TTeixeira captured these images from a May Day protest in Porto, Portugal, Wednesday by demonstrators angered by economic austerity measures. "People protested with great order, but showed discontent against the government who they blame for this economic crisis," she said. "They want the government to resign and the Troika [European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank] out of this country."

        May Day protesters flood Europe

        As European financial markets close for the spring celebration of May Day, protesters across Europe and beyond have taken to the streets to demonstrate.
      • Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic delivers a speech in Mostar, on April 9, 2013. Prime Ministers from Bosnia's neighboring countries arrived in Bosnia with their delegations to attend the opening ceremony of "Mostar 2013 Trade Fair".

        Croatia PM: We need Italy to recover

        As Croatia prepares to enter the 27-nation European Union, the country's Prime Minister says Italy must return to being the "powerhouse of Europe."
      • Anti-eviction activists and members of the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH) take part in a protest against the government's eviction laws in front of the Popular Party (PP) headquarters in Mallorca on April 23, 2013.

        Spain's unemployment hits record

        Spain's unemployment rate rose to a record high of 27.2% in the first quarter of 2013, the Spanish National Institute of Statistics said Thursday.
      • People protest against the Spanish laws on house evictions outside the Spanish parliament on February 12, 2013 in Madrid, Spain.

        Welcome to Madrid: City of protests

        Spain has seen hundreds of protests since the "Indignados" movement erupted in 2011, marches and sit-ins are now common sights in the capital.