Opinion / Blog

China should look to the best to improve soccer skills

By eddieturkson (blog.chinadaily.com.cn) Updated: 2015-03-18 17:27

During the visit of Britain’s Prince William earlier this month, President Xi Jinping said China would learn from the United Kingdom’s formula and use it as a template for China’s soccer reforms. I haven’t had a critical look at the reforms announced this week, but if China is really serious about making progress, it should learn from the best of the best - Germany and not the UK.

From the look of the plans, there is no doubt the nation is hoping to improve on its FIFA world ranking but not the ultimate goal of winning the World Cup. The long-term goal falls short of winning the tournament which, for most analysts, is understandable. The plan falls short of a dream. The long-term goal is to qualify and host the World Cup, fair enough.

So why shouldn’t China learn from England? Oh yes, there is spectacular football being played in the Premier League, we all agree on that, but most critics would also agree that British nationals are finding it increasingly difficult to gain first team selection with top flight UK clubs.

We saw how Germany demolished Brazil last year and went on to win the World Cup. England’s team failed to get past the group stage and has lost its glory and shine. Very few would bet a dollar on England at major competitions.

Britain at the moment hasn’t got anything to teach China when it comes to soccer apart from marketing and the commercialization of the game which the English FA knows better than any other governing body.  Germany however will continue to dominate the international game for decades because of the ground-breaking foundations created 14 years ago.

I wrote about this some time ago but omitted some details about how the German youth program was modeled. It was reformed taking into consideration youth soccer in Holland, a small country but making it big across all platforms. In the 2000s, German soccer was in a shambles. The league wasn’t enjoyable, it was boring and there were few stars because rich European clubs were snapping up the good players. In June 2000 Germany finished bottom of its group at the European Championship, scoring one goal in three games and losing to Portugal 3-0 in their final match.

China is paying much attention to developing youth soccer, but this is exactly what Germany did. In February 2001, the Bundesliga, the German league, made it mandatory for all 18 top-flight professional clubs to run youth academies. That is what China should “insist” upon not just “encourage”. China should make it mandatory for all league teams to establish academies.

For clubs in Germany to receive their license and as the precondition for entering any competition, they must hire full-time youth coaches, whose qualifications are taken into consideration when grading academies, with those holding higher grades receiving greater funding. Furthermore, appropriate training grounds have to be built, a medical department established and co-operation with schools initiated.

The better a club’s academy the more funding it receives. Under Bundesliga rules, a club with a top-rated three-star academy gets an additional $400,000 annually, a significant incentive for smaller clubs. According to a report in 2012, professional outfits in Germany spent $681 million developing youth soccer. The country’s football association also had its own initiative where it spent $13 million a year on youth soccer in communities and high schools.

Germany created a system that efficiently identified young players, gave them specialized coaching, developed their skills in a professional environment and turned them into great players. It was little surprise when in 2013 two German teams, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, went head to head in the final of the Champions League. 

I have no doubt China can foot the bill and more. I do however hope China’s soccer reforms will not just be words on paper but administered to the letter as Germany did. As a lot of noise is being made about the reforms other Asian countries will be watching closely whether China can pull it off. They will be looking to see how China uses it economic power to up its game.

The original blog is at: http://blog.chinadaily.com.cn/blog-1825133-27468.html

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