What next for football in China?

Ben Chapman Sino.uk Published: 2017-09-10 11:45:26
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With China's hopes to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia ceasing on Tuesday night, it is easy to see why The Dragons hopes of becoming a world force are being written off by fans and pundits alike.

Zheng Zhi (C) of China vies with Ali Asadalla Thaimn (L) and Almoez Ali of Qatar during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Asian Zone Qualifiers between China and Qatar at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sept. 5, 2017. China won 2-1. [Photo: Xinhua]

Zheng Zhi (C) of China vies with Ali Asadalla Thaimn (L) and Almoez Ali of Qatar during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Asian Zone Qualifiers between China and Qatar at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sept. 5, 2017. China won 2-1. [Photo: Xinhua]

The national team was able to edge past Uzbekistan and Qatar in the past fortnight to give them a glimmer of hope, but a poor overall campaign proved to be their downfall.

Iran and South Korea managing to secure qualification to next year's tournament, and civil war hit Syria progressed to the play off rounds.

It will, of course, be a disappointment for Marcello Lippi's China outfit that they were unable to make a greater push for the play offs at least, but with some of China's most powerful figures viewing Football as a potentially profitable asset, a promising future is in the offing.

More than 40,000 football schools are to be developed by 2020 as part of Xi Jinping's project to improve the state of national football in the country, and football fans across the world have had to sit up and take notice of the vast spending power of teams in the Chinese Super League, with some of the world's best talent being exported to China.

President Xi himself admits that the goals being undertaken are very much a long-term project, but with China being top or thereabouts of the Olympic medals table each time the world's biggest sporting event occurs, why shouldn't China be competing with the world's best in Football also?

One reason is a perceived lack of passion for the sport at grassroots level, with Luiz Ferreira, the Portuguese director of youth training at Chinese Super League club Tianjin Teda, asking a group of eight-year-old players whether they watched the Champions League final, the minority having done so.

Ferreira admitted it would "take time" for a foundation to be built when it comes to a wide held love for the sport.

A way this could be achieved is through a production of a super star from one of the academies, the talent is there, Shanghai SIPG director Mads Davidsen claims training he has attended for youth players have showcased him the technical ability he would see in a top European club's youth sessions, perhaps even better.

Producing one or two players who go on to perform for top European clubs such as Real Madrid, or Manchester United, with their formidable marketing teams, would undoubtedly go a long way to inspiring youngsters in China to undertake football.

Football in China has long been a source of disappointment, the most previous appearance in the World Cup being in 2002, where they failed to gain a point, or score a goal.

Xi Jinping hopes to have 100,000 young footballers produced from the influx of academies soon, and whilst a large amount of them will languish in the Chinese Super League for a great deal of their careers, it is likely that European clubs will sit up and take interest, especially with the extortionate fees being quoted in the current transfer climate for established footballers.

Scouting set ups from Premier League clubs and other top European clubs in China will become common with cheap, talented youngsters emerging from the academies that President Xi has sanctioned.

With this future trend set to occur, it will not be long until Chinese football players become more common in the top leagues. It may take longer for the national team to be able to compete with the best, but this is an important step.

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