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Time to invest in youth, says icon Gao

Beijing great issues rallying call as Chinese game embarks on rebuild

By SHI FUTIAN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-03-05 08:57
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Gao Hongbo

After being installed as a technical director at the Beijing Football Association, former Chinese men's soccer team head coach Gao Hongbo has urged more of his fellow retired pros to contribute to the development of the nation's youth training network.

"The development of youth soccer training is a long-term effort and requires help from high-level coaches and the support of parents and schools," said Gao at a tryout for the Beijing under-15 team over the weekend.

"At international level, the performances of Chinese youth players still have huge room for improvement. They are in need of more competitiveness, and they need to learn to be more decisive. These kinds of improvements require a combination of both training on the pitch and education in schools."

Having played, coached and worked as an official for the Chinese Football Association (CFA), Gao has been an icon of Chinese soccer for decades. He is best known for his time as coach of the national team, but also enjoyed fame in the 1990s as a striker for Beijing Guo'an.

After calling time on his playing career, Gao coached several Chinese Super League teams, and had two stints in charge of the national team, in 2009 and 2016. In 2019, he was named vice-president of the CFA, before leaving the position last year.

"I'm very happy to return to Beijing. The new job is a challenge to me, but this is a chance for me to contribute to the soccer development of my hometown," said the 58-year-old Beijing native.

"In terms of coaching or management, I'm still young. I was a player, a coach and I worked in the CFA, so I have had a pretty comprehensive education in Chinese soccer.

"I have acquired an understanding about the selection of players and the development of coaches. I hope I can bring this to Beijing's soccer development and build a solid foundation for the sport's future growth."

In preparation for his new position, Gao has been busy visiting various youth teams across clubs and schools in Beijing.

"The coaches are all very professional in terms of soccer skills and knowledge. So I think what we can first do is to help these coaches have more specific plans for players of different ages. There is room for improvement," Gao added.

"But my current position is technical director, not head coach. So my role is not to lead all the youth teams, but to provide help and offer suggestions to all the youth teams in Beijing."

Gao revealed that some words of encouragement from legendary Beijing Guo'an head coach Jin Zhiyang, the 80-year-old who also coached Team China in the 1990s, had helped persuade him to take up his new role.

"During Spring Festival, I visited coach Jin. He said that he hoped I could carry more responsibility to help Beijing soccer. For decades, he contributed greatly to building the foundations of youth training, and I think I should carry this on," said Gao.

"There are many great coaches in Beijing, including coach Jin, and they have had many great strategies and plans. But with the constant development of world soccer, their training plans will always need to be updated," he added.

"For instance, many young players stop going to school at the age of 15 or 16. I think to become a real high-level soccer player, you need to focus on both good training on the pitch and great education in school."

The arrival of Gao was especially welcomed by Wang Changqing, the head coach of Beijing under-15 team and also a former Guo'an player. During winter, Wang took his team to Spain to train with and compete against local kids.

"In Spain, we had some really high-quality matches with local youth teams, and we had three wins. Through these matches, we have gained confidence, but more importantly we noticed many things to work on," said Wang.

"I also visited coach Jin during Spring Festival, and we had many discussions on youth training and the future of Beijing soccer," he added. "From coach Jin to coach Gao and to the younger generation of coaches like me, we have to ensure that the tradition of Beijing soccer continues.

"We share the same goals and carry the same dream. Many challenges await us, but we are ready to face them and fight for the best possible outcome."

Chinese soccer is struggling both on the international stage and at the professional domestic league level.

Team China slumped to an early exit at the AFC Asian Cup in January, which prompted the resignation of head coach Aleksandar Jankovic. Croatian Branko Ivankovic has been appointed as the new head coach, but the aging squad's lack of young talent continues to cause concern.



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