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Can Cai really fix China football?

Updated: 2014-01-21 14:05
By Xin Zhiming (
Can Cai really fix China football?

Cai Zhenhua is much-loved in China as a former world champion table tennis player and, later, the wildly popular coach of its national team.

Under his leadership, from the mid-1990s until the early 2000s, the Chinese squad regained the world title and regained its reputation as unconquerable.

There is no disputing the fact, that Cai is a legend in China.

With this in mind, it is no wonder that China’s long-suffering soccer fans would have high hopes on Cai’s appointment as chairman of the Chinese Football Association on Tuesday.

Well, Chinese football fans need to be realistic.

No one would doubt the career accomplishments of Cai as a world-class player and a capable manager.

History has shown, however, that the Chinese men’s soccer team has the capacity to let down the world’s largest group of football fans, no matter who is in charge.

Can Cai really change the history? We hope he can.

Still, the core problem of the national team has little to do with who is the chairman of the governing body. It actually resides in whether there is a pool of young soccer talent and high-quality league for them to showcase their skills.

All the top soccer powers in the world have built the strength of their national team on those two invaluable assets. China is no exception if it wants to excel — even in Asia, which lags behind Europe or South America in soccer.

For many years, soccer decision-makers have put priority on handpicking a world-renowned head coach, a capable association head, or, in the latest case, a soccer ambassador, with the aim of fast-tracking the Chinese team to success.

Those steps are important, but policymakers should not stop there. They must make more meaningful moves, such as encouraging more young people to play and building a quality national league, one that is corruption-free.

Only when we make real headway in supporting young players and building a clean and popular league, where foreign big names would come to play, will there be real hope for the national men’s team.

Before that happens, it is reasonable to assume the team would continue to let us down — even with the leadership of a legend like Cai.