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Jobless Haan reflects China's football crisis
By Chen Xiangfeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-11-20 09:46

Arie Haan, who is set to step down as head coach of China's men's football team after the team was knocked out of the 2006 World Cup finals said the failure was partly due to the country's scandal-plagued professional league.

Chinese football coach Arie Haan arrives at a press conference in Guangzhou, in China's southern Guangdong province, Tuesday Nov. 16, 2004. [AP]

China's 7-0 thrash of Hong Kong on Wednesday was not enough to send them through to the next round of Asian qualifiers.

Kuwait won the group and advanced by routing Malaysia 6-1 because it scored one more goal than China.

Haan told China Central Television (CCTV) on Friday that his job in the team was over and he would return to Germany next week.

Haan remains calm and still placed hopes on the ailing Chinese team.

"It's very sad for the development of Chinese football, on the other hand, I think it was even a good year," he said.

"They have to go on, not to start at zero again."

The Dutchman, a midfielder in the 1970s team that reached two World Cup finals, said the recent rough-and-tumble rocking China's top professional league played a role in the national team's slump.

Last month, seven of the 12 clubs in China's Super League, including Dalian, Beijing, Shanghai, Qingdao, Sichuan, Shenzhen and Liaoning, commonly known as G-7, were united in launching a challenge at the China Football Association (CFA), urging it for reform.

The G-7, headed by China's seven-time league champions Dalian Shide, criticized the CFA for lack of transparency and acute corruption.

"Of course it had an influence on the national team, the players," he told CCTV.

"A lot of players are not being paid, a lot of players don't want to play because they're not satisfied with the circumstances, the referees."

The 10-year-old professional league, replaced by the Super League this year, was hampered by lackluster performances and poor commercial success, despite heavy investment from club runners and government support.

But things have been getting worse recently.

Both Beijing and Dalian threatened to boycott the league matches last month while Liaoning and Shenzhen were struggling as the clubs failed to pay the players on time.

With the recently-disclosed drug scandal of Liaoning's goalkeeper Zhang Jiansheng, who is believed to be connected to social drug use and match fixing, China's football is at the edge of collapsing.

Haan, scapegoat?

Adding salt to the wound, the humiliation from the World Cup qualifiers once again sparked nation-wide soul-searching and censures on CFA.

As the hopes of millions evaporated, CFA had to release Haan but could not find any excuses for the embarrassing performance of the national football players.

Haan hesitated to comment on his work with the CFA and but he did express pride over his two-year tenure, particularly this year.

"This year, we only lost two matches. In the final of the Asia Cup we lost to Japan, and afterwards we lost to Kuwait," he was quoted as saying by the Xinhua news agency.

"That should not be considered a bad result."

The team finished second at the Asia Cup 2004, an achievement seen as a success for the CFA but far less than satisfactory for the fans.

The fans thought the team led by Haan lacked the ability to play against Asia's top teams and the previous victories mainly came from encounters with lower-ranking teams.

"Look at those teams they beat last year, it is ridiculous for him to appear so proud of the results," said Li Tong, a football fan in Beijing.

"He always sticks to the 4-4-2 format and stubbornly relies on those old faces. So every match we see no improvement," Li said.

Haan, blamed for his stubbornness, also said on Friday that it would be too harsh for him to take the full responsibility.

Many fans said Haan, like his former foreign counterparts in China, become a scapegoat.

"The major problem is on the CFA. It was the CFA that chose the inexperienced Haan and it was the CFA who should take the main responsibility for the loss and for all the recent chaos in China's football," said Wu Gang, a student from Beijing.

"All China's four previous head coaches were appointed with one target: To qualify for the World Cup or the Olympics. Those officials' eyes are only on the money and good and immediate results."

"The short-sightedness was to fail to bring in someone to train football players for the long term."

With the future of the league unclear, Wednesday's crushing disappointment led newspapers around the country to proclaim the "death" of Chinese soccer.

"Chinese football kills itself," ran a headline in the Beijing Youth Daily.

CFA officials refused to put all the blame on Haan and said he was not being made a scapegoat.

"As a coach Haan is diligent and modest. He has made a contribution to Chinese football," CFA vice president Yang Yimin told Xinhua on Thursday.

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