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Shenzhen out to recapture former glory

Updated: 2012-02-29 08:05
By Tang Zhe ( China Daily)

Southern city keen to re-establish itself as a soccer powerhouse after a lean spell

GUANGZHOU - A first division championship, leading local players and enthusiastic fans, Shenzhen was a soccer hot bed in the early 2000s.

However, the Shenzhen team has struck a lean spell since 2005. It has changed its name several times and weathered frequent shifts of club ownership until it was named Shenzhen Ruby in 2009.

While soccer is going from strength to strength in neighboring Guangzhou, where three teams are holding sway in the first and second divisions of Chinese soccer, Shenzhen's only squad was demoted to the second division last year, 14 years after it rose to the top flight in 1997.

Spring always comes after winter, and two new clubs are coming up to join Ruby on the Shenzhen soccer stage.

Shenzhen Main Sports FC and Shenzhen Fengpeng FC will take part in the third-tier Chinese league in May.

"From 1994, the first time a team from Shenzhen joined the third-tier league, until now, the city has enjoyed the glory of lifting up the trophy of the highest division, but also experienced the hardship of trying to escape relegation, but our fans never gave up their support of our team," said Li Shaohui, vice-president of the Shenzhen Football Association.

Shenzhen out to recapture former glory

"The government will spare no effort to help the three sides become positive, healthy and organized clubs," Li said.

Ke Gangming, an official from the Shenzhen Municipal Bureau of Culture, Sport and Tourism, said the Shenzhen Universiade held last summer had equipped the city with world-class facilities and a pleasant sporting environment.

"Seven soccer stadiums and 11 training pitches were used at the Universiade, and it has set a sound foundation for the sport's development in Shenzhen," Ke said.

Sammy Yu, chairman of Shenzhen Main Sports FC, used to be vice-chairman of British club Birmingham in 2009, also had a stint at Shenzhen Ruby as general manager last year.

The 56-year-old said he will bring his experience to the newly-established club and guide it to the top division in the next three to four years.

"Through that seven months at Ruby, I found that soccer in China has a big market," Yu said. "As the fourth biggest city in the nation, I can see a big future for any sport, but particularly soccer, in Shenzhen.

"To ensure the club runs in a proper and healthy way I want to build it from the bottom up and we plan to inject certain English club systems which will be suitable in China and to our club," Yu said. "If that is done well, I believe the club could be one of the top teams in China in the near future."

Englishman Brian Sparrow, head coach of the Main Sports team, said the explosion of Chinese soccer made it the ideal time to start his Asian adventure.

"We can mould the club as we want to without having to deal with any previous mistakes and personalities," said Sparrow, who was a coach of Crystal Palace when Chinese player Fan Zhiyi played for the British club from 1998-2001.

"Personally I would like to repay the faith that has been put in me by the club and hopefully to get it into the Super League," Sparrow said. "But I would also like to think I can influence the young coaches and players of Shenzhen to develop community programs that will keep growing and develop future international players from the area.

"I have tried to keep up to date with what's happening in the Super League and the whole world now realizes that improved finances are bringing an influx of overseas players," he said. "As long as this is managed, it could be very good for the development of Chinese players."

Besides running the team, Main Sports is also working on a summer tournament which will include teams from the English Premier League, Bundesliga, Eredivisie and Main Sports.

"To help Shenzhen develop soccer, it's very important to create a soccer attraction for the public, and the annual tournament would help build the sport's image in this area," said Yu.

A city-wide Under-16 youth development program is also on the agenda.

"We are working with the Shenzhen Football Association on an Under-16 development scheme which will cover all schools in the city and we expect hundreds of students to participate," Yu said.

"After a period of training and matches, there will be a group of 11 selected for a trip to UK professional clubs for at least one month of training. That will give local youngsters the chance to learn the game and emerge as the future of Chinese soccer," he said.

China Daily

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