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Coaching guru's got Kyl-er instinct

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2018-12-12 09:44

CFA turns to French youth supremo to unearth China's answer to Mbappe

China can, and probably will, produce its own Kylian Mbappe.

That's the opinion of the country's youth soccer training chief from France, who's on a mission to fulfill that prediction.

"Talent is universal, so statistically speaking there's no reason that in such a densely populated country we can't find players as good as in France. If there's a Chinese Mbappe, I'll find him," Christian Damiano said in a recent interview with French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche.

The 68-year-old is regarded as one of the pioneers of France's famed Clairefontaine youth academy, which has churned out talent like 1998 World Cup winner Thierry Henry, Chelsea great William Gallas and, most recently, Paris Saint-Germain's teenage world champion Mbappe.

Damiano's task is to duplicate the Clairefontaine blueprint in China, in what he describes as "an immensely fantastic project".

"I don't want to come as a lessongiver," said Damiano, who worked as Gerard Houllier's assistant at Liverpool and France's Under-19 side.

"You have been famous for your 'made in China'. I'm going to teach you how to have 'made in China' on the soccer pitch.

"To succeed, you must master the methodology of the sport, to digest it and put it in place.

"If there are no quality players, we can never achieve that. China is lucky to have (national team coach) Marcello Lippi, one of the best coaches in history."

Lippi is coming to the end of a largely disappointing two-year tenure, with the Italian set to leave after the Asian Cup in February.

Despite boasting a glittering resume that includes World Cup, Serie A, Chinese Super League, UEFA and AFC Champions League titles, the 70-year-old has failed to improve Team China's fortunes.

Damiano reckons Lippi has been hamstrung by what he perceives as a practically non-existent youth training system.

"There's a professional championship but no youth competition-nothing in schools, no training or detection. It's almost zero."

Still, the Chinese Football Association has been investing heavily in the youth game.

Deputy sports minister Du Zhaocai revealed last month that 50 new national training centers will be built by 2020, with 29 already finished. Each will feature a four-tier selection system-school, district, city and international-with the best talent promoted to national squads or sent to train abroad.

"If there's no superstar, Chinese soccer will never step out of Asia," Du said at a CFA conference in Wuhan, Hubei province.

"To find and nurture a major star of our own is as important as the overall development of Chinese soccer. In some ways, a star can drive the development of a whole sport. Japan and South Korea have their own stars, why can't we have one?"

Seeds of change are also being planted in schools, with soccer forming an integral part of local governments' investment in fitness.

For example, in the Chengyang district of Qingdao, Shandong province, a total of 23 elementary and middle schools feature soccer on their curricula.

At the national level, the appointment of Dutch great Guus Hiddink as China Under-21 coach also offers hope.

The former Chelsea boss, whose main task is to prepare his squad for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, has already proved his worth by leading the team to a runner-up finish at a four-nation tournament in Chongqing last month.

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