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Perrin: World Cup, grassroots development vital goals for China

Updated: 2015-05-24 14:39
By Lei Lei and Zhang Lu (China Daily Africa)

Patience and reforms needed to see results, says coach

As coach of China's national soccer team, 58-year-old Frenchman Alain Perrin not only has the support of the world's most populous country - he also has the backing of its top leader.

President Xi Jinping, an avid soccer fan, has made no secret of his determination to improve the game's image as he leads reform initiatives.

 Perrin: World Cup, grassroots development vital goals for China

China's national team coach Alain Perrin (right) is animated at a game between China and Haiti in Changsha, Hunan province, on March 27. Photos provided to China Daily

"The top man in the country likes soccer and wants to improve its level in China," Perrin said in an exclusive interview with China Daily. "So soccer has a high level of support.

"They have taken some decisions to improve the game from the grassroots and the schools, and in terms of the development of soccer, I think China is in good shape."

In March, the State Council issued a comprehensive reform plan for soccer, streamlining the sport's widely criticized management system and promoting the game at the grassroots level.

Under the Minister of Education's guidance, soccer has become a compulsory part of physical education classes. The ministry has set a target for establishing more soccer academies, and aims to train up to 6,000 soccer teachers this year. It plans to have 20,000 primary and middle schools focusing on the sport by 2017.

Perrin welcomed the reform plan, saying the grassroots level is a good place to start, but added that patience will be required.

"The only way to improve soccer is to start at the grassroots, and it's very important to begin now," he said. "But if you start with young players you need to be patient, because you won't see results in just two or three years - you have to wait 10 years."

Zhang Jian, secretary-general of the Chinese Football Association, said: "The attention from the top leadership injects vigor into the development of soccer.

"This development cannot reach its target in one move, it requires efforts from all parties."

But time is limited for Perrin's national team, as his aim is to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The second round of the qualification process for Asian teams starts next month.

Forty teams have been drawn into eight groups of five and will compete on a home-and-away basis. China is in Group C along with Qatar, the Maldives, Bhutan and Hong Kong, and will play its first match against Bhutan on June 16.

The group winners and four highest placed runners-up will advance to the final round of qualifying.

Perrin said he does not feel under pressure to qualify because of Xi's keen interest in soccer, but is well aware that the whole country expects a satisfactory outcome.

"Many people expect good results from the national team. I knew that before coming here," said Perrin, who took charge of the squad in February of last year.

"Our target is to go to Russia, and we want to make a good start in the first qualifying game. The first aim is to finish top of the group.

"We need to prepare the players and ensure they are ambitious.

"It's my philosophy to always do my best to get the result. We should give them the desire to do their best and improve on what they achieved in the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia."

Under Perrin's guidance, China - which went into the tournament as an underdog - surprised observers by winning its three group matches before losing 2-0 to host Australia in the quarterfinals.

This was the team's best performance at the continental showpiece since 2004.

"I have a lot of confidence in my players because we have very good spirit," he said. "They are good men, they want to improve and they fight. We are a very young team and we are ambitious. I think the future is bright."

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Q+A | Alain Perrin

Head coach of China's men's soccer team

Q. In which aspects does the Chinese team have to improve?

A. We did very well in the Asian Cup, and the next step is to be more efficient, more effective offensively. Last year, we scored a lot of goals, but if we want to qualify, we need to win the games. There's a big difference between just getting a goal and getting a win. We need to focus on improving efficiency in front of the goal and the relationship between the midfield and forwards to get more chances to score more goals.

Q. What do you think of the Chinese Super League?

A. I think in two years it has improved. The clubs brought in some very good foreign players, not so old. They provided very good examples for Chinese players. We can see now that the players have more energy and passion on the pitch. The championship is very close. We don't have only one or two teams able to win, but five to six teams. It means you have more competition. You have to compete. Every week we can see the games between the top teams. So, the players have to push themselves and improve their level in each game and it's good for the national team in the future.

Q. Is having foreign players on the clubs good or bad for Chinese soccer?

A. It can be difficult to find the balance, because you have to consider that the foreign players can bring experience of top-level play. But at this moment, if you allow only four foreign players on each team, it will give more chances to the Chinese players.

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