Sports / Soccer

Chinese sports firms visit UK in quest for success on soccer field

By Wang Mingjie in London ( Updated: 2016-10-04 16:57

Chinese sports firms visit UK in quest for success on soccer field

Representatives from Chinese sports firms visit Tottenham Hotspur's training center in Enfield on Sunday. [Photo by Wang Mingjie/China Daily]

In line with China's ambition to become a footballing superpower, a team of 11 Chinese sports companies was in the UK last week hoping to pick up the knowledge and skills needed to reach that goal.

The delegation was on a visit organized by the UK government's Department for International Trade, during which they attended the Soccerex football business convention, Manchester United Football Club, the Football Association's national training center, and training facilities used by Tottenham Hotspur.

"There are deep roots and traditions surrounding English football and it is a whole ecosystem in and of itself, whereas football in China has a very modern tone to it," said Molly Mo, director of international affairs and external relations at Alisports.

The company, which was founded a year ago, is dedicated to building a foundation for the Chinese sports economy, with the ultimate goal of elevating football in China.

Mo said many people participate in football in China – it is fourth in the table of most-played sports – but it is not yet deeply rooted.

"If you think about the kids getting training, English football has already developed a very complete and almost perfect system to grow football players from the ground up," she said. "What I also learned is that football is a game of patience in terms of development. It's going to take a lot of work, patience and dedication."

Yuan Weidong, who was a youth coach at Newcastle United from 2007 to 2011 wanted to learn more about the way English clubs operate.

Yuan, who is general manager of China Sport Leader, a Beijing based-firm that provides services to football teams and match organizers, was especially interested in how English clubs commercialize their operations, including how they make a profit from training centers.

He also wanted to find out more about how injured players are rehabilitated.

He said some players in China spend a long time out of the game because of injuries. An apparent shortage of quality rehabilitation centers means many injured players travel overseas for rehabilitation.

"But I have a rehabilitation center at my club in Beijing and it would be brilliant to help other local Chinese clubs," he said.

Denis Green, business development manager at LeSports, China's leading internet-based eco-sports company, believes the difference between Chinese and English football lies at the youth level because education and sports are intertwined at an early age in England.

He too thinks the development of football in China will depend on getting it right at that grassroots level.

"Rather than trying to spend a lot of money on big names, I think it is very important to get the basics right first at the basic level. It is like building a mansion, if you get the foundations right, it will all work better."

Seeing a booming football industry in China, Western clubs and agencies are keen to support development there. One of the clubs capitalizing on the opportunity is English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur.

Recently, the club took part in a year-long initiative with the China Soong Ching Ling Foundation to develop the game at the grassroots level, providing training to 8,000 students and 40 physical education teachers.

Aidan Mullally, head of business development at Tottenham, believes it is more important to develop young players than it is to win every game.

"I think that's the philosophy we instilled at our academy, that it is not always about winning," he said. "It's about making sure you apply yourself in the right way, develop your skill sets, and also understand when enough is enough."

He hopes China will focus on building facilities, installing the right coaching philosophies, and developing players with the right attitudes and skillsets.

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