Up and Coming Defender Vows Kitchee All the Way th

When he was a young lad, Li Ngai-hoi did not know much about Hong Kong football. Instead, he was just a football-mad youngster who treated the game as a past-time. Until one day, Li pulled on the Kitchee shirt and things completely changed. Suddenly, the game became his aspiring career. Having gone through a rebellious stage and suffered through downfalls, Li left behind the old-self and turned himself into a twenty-one year-old who is determined to lead his football team to success. When Li Ngai-hoi was fourteen year-old, he was already showing excellent promise while representing his own district team. Out of the blue, an unexpected opportunity arrived and offered him the chance to join the Kitchee family. “Back then, Coach Chu (Alex Chu, Kitchee’s Director of Football) came over to me and asked me whether I was interested in joining Kitchee’s youth team and worked my way towards becoming a professional player,” Li said. “It was such a dream-like encounter. I dreamed about becoming a professional footballer when I was a young kid but never thought I would actually get scouted and picked up by anyone. The whole thing worked out just like a story-book affair.” Li embarked on a football playing career ever since that day. During those early years, it was all about attending classes and going to training. While it was certainly a tough grind, Li was still enjoying it very much. Fate intervened again and offered him the chance to transfer from his then secondary school to Yan Chai Hospital Tung Chi Ying Memorial Secondary School to continue his football education. “At that time, Kitchee partnered up with Tung Chi Ying on a program for aspiring footballer. Over there, I was able to arrange my schedule in a better way, allowing myself to better focus on both my education and football,” Li offered. “Football-wise, the training was more dedicated and organized and when my family saw that I was doing well on the pitch, they started to feel better about my career choice and poured even more support towards my decision.” During the interview, Li recalled how mentor Alex Chu was always taking charge of youth team training after a full-day in the Kitchee office or after coaching the first-team. Chu’s unyielding work ethic was not lost in the eyes of young Li and inspired him to work harder for his dreams. “As I climbed higher in the Kitchee ranks, I gradually received the opportunity to train with the first team and started to realize the fitness, skills and techniques that are required to be a professional player, as well as actually feeling more like a proper footballer. Li Ka-chun, Ngan Lok-fung and Robson Leung and myself were all training together and I actually saw them more than my own family!” However, a young football career is often full of trial and turbulence and Li went through his fair share of bumps and bruises before turning into a more mature football player. “When I was young, I had a really bad temper and attitude, always making mistakes and getting punished for them. I always regret my actions afterwards but I guess this is part of the growing pain,” Li recounted. On the cusp of breaking into the Kitchee first team but still not able to do so, Li saw time away from the parent club, on loan to Hong Kong Sapling, Sun Pegasus, Southern and even Chinese first division side Shenyang Zhong Ze. However, Li did not give up on his dreams and simply kept plugging away. Counting on Li to step up his game and contribute to the first team, Kitchee head coach Abraham Garcia sees Li as someone who acts like a veteran, plays with both an edge and power on the pitch. Someone whose play betrays his tender age of twenty year-old. Li has certainly come a long way from the days when he was only allowed to observe the first team training session form the sidelines. With the coach’s faith now firmly resting on his shoulders, Li is currently enjoying the most promising period in his young career. “I never knew how to cherish my opportunities when I was starting out. But now, I have learnt how to look into the mirror and become accountable. Opportunities are for those who are ready for them. I am now ready for it and it is the right time for me to prove my own worth,” the Kitchee youth product stated. A football career is often full of ups and downs and Li is not immune from that, as the youngster suffered a horrific facial injury in only his second start for Kitchee this season, requiring surgery as a result. Li admitted during his time on the sidelines that he was certainly worried about not able to get back to full recovery. “I was definitely scared during the surgery but the doctor told me that I was recovering faster than normal people, giving me huge confidence to my recovery path and returning to the pitch.” Feeling stronger than ever, Li returned to the pitch donning a new protecting facial mask. However, less than forty-five minutes into his first game back, the young defender had already ditched the mask to one side. “The protective mask hindered my visibility and was not very comfortable. That was why I took it off and decided to go for it. At the end of the day, football players need to have confidence and determination to face all sorts of obstacle, and that include injuries. Now that I am fully over my injury and out from the shadow, I need to keep proving myself, leading the team to the right direction and achieving results that match Kitchee’s stature,” declared the fast-rising Kitchee rearguard.